I am not a raptor expert. Until this year, I had never caught more than a very brief glimpse of any raptors around Sitka. Even this year, I have only had good looks a couple of times, and those were both looks at a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
I first spotted this bird as we stopped at a turnout to get Rowan to sit up in her seat. It flew off from the ground in front of us with something dangling from its talons. I watched where it flew and we were able to get a good look at it where it had landed in an alder tree close to the road. The bird was definitely smaller than an eagle and larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. It had a squirrel in its talons and was presumably getting ready to eat it. I was certainly kicking myself for not having my camera. On the off chance that it might stick around, we drove back home to get my camera.
When we got back out, I did not see the bird. We drove out a little further and turned around. It was on the way back that I thought I saw it in an alder tree. I was relieved to see that I was correct and was able to get several pictures of it.
My best guess is that it’s a light morph of a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk. These are apparently pretty uncommon, so I am not confident in this identification. The following are the characters that I base my identification on:
- Size seems right (much larger than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, much smaller than a Bald Eagle)
- White Throat (there aren’t really any other raptors of this size that have a range that includes Southeast Alaska)
- Overall mostly dark upper parts and mostly pale under parts.