Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2017-35

Common name:

Zone-tailed Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
Date: 7 May 2017
Time: 12:03 pm
Length of time observed: On-off for about 30-45 minutes, at various distances.
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: unknown (didn't ask)
Location: Whispering Pines Rd in the Kolob Terraces area. I first saw it at coordinates below.
County: Washington
Latilong:  37.410770, -113.041621
Elevation: ca. 7970 feet
Distance to bird: Ranging from about 80 feet to 1/4 mile.
Optical equipment: Leica 10x42 BN binoculars and Nikon D7200 camera (through which I spent a lot of time looking as I snapped photos)
Weather: Sunny.
Light Conditions: Excellent. Sunny.
Description:        Size of bird: Like a slender Buteo. Noticeably smaller than a Turkey vulture.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Like a slender Buteo with relatively slender wings.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Black with 1 1/2 white tail bands and paler flight feathers.
(Description:)            Bill Type:  typical hooked Buteo bill, with dark tip & yellow cere
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Flying alone low to ground. My young son, Peter, pointed out a Turkey vulture, but when I looked at it, I immediately yelped in excitement and started taking photos.
-- overall very much like a Turkey vulture in shape & coloration
-- flying with wings in a dihedral
-- all solid black with paler flight feathers
-- tail had two white bands from below:
1) one clear one near mid-tail (or closer to tip depending on how you count it), and
2) the second closer to base being very broken from below into two white spots plus edge bleed from main band (see photos)
-- long tail held un-fanned (thus narrow) with a square tip
-- yellow on face (cere and base of bill)
-- wings long and narrow, which did not extend to tail (not broad like Black hawk)
-- head black and feathered
-- appeared significantly smaller than a Turkey vulture, though none were around for comparison (this is what first alerted me to this not being a Turkey vulture)
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: silent
Behavior: Flying slow & low to ground with wings held in a dihedral. Flew anywhere between about 40-50 feet to 150 feet off ground. Stayed in the area, zig-zagging, for approximately 30-40 minutes.
Habitat: Air. Flew over a semi-open area of patchy trees and scrub and sagebrush/grassland (with small cacti) along the edge of a large meadow in a mostly unconstructed subdivision. Trees included Gambel oak, Quaking aspen, and some sort of conifers (firs?).
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
The following species were eliminated for various reasons:
1) Turkey vulture: head was not bare and red, bill was not all bone-colored, and the tail had distinct white band(s). Also, Turkey vultures are much bigger.
2) Common black hawk: wings were far too thin and did not extend to tail area in the manner of a Common black hawk. Also, the wings were held in a dihedral and the tail never fanned.
3) Golden eagle: This bird was clearly smaller than a Golden eagle, plus the white on the tail was restricted in clear white band(s) rather than a white base. Also, the head was all black with no golden tones and the body black, not brown.
4) Rough-legged hawk (dark phase): The shape was more slender, the tail kept ever-closed (not fanned). The fight feathers, though paler than body, were not white. The black tail had white band(s) rather than white base.
5) Broad-winged hawk (dark phase): The shape was more slender, the tail kept ever-closed (not fanned). The fight feathers, though paler than body, were not white with distinctly contrasting black rim. The color of the body was black, not brown.
6) Other Buteos (dark phase): No other buteo has a combination of all-black body, thin wings lacking any white, and a black tail with distinct (broad) white tail band(s).
7) All other semi-likely tropical hawks/eagles/kites are eliminated by wing shape and color (just to preclude any quibbling from a certain Committee member who sees such Mexican raptors on a regular basis...).
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
According to eBird, I've seen this species 34 times since 1994, mostly in Mexico, Central America, and South America. I've only seen this species three times prior to this in Utah.
References consulted: National Geographic and Sibley guides at the time (shortly after returning to car). I facetiously dove into the Howell & Webb guide for Mexico for the purposes of this write-up.
Description from: Notes taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: David Wheeler
Observer's address: 2196 South 1000 East
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Peter Wheeler
Date prepared: 29 May 2017
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: I will send photos within the coming week.