Hotline Photos

Common Black Hawk

From the photos, Arizona birders more familiar with these two species, suggest that this is a Common Black Hawk rather than a Zone-tailed Hawk.  Here are some comments:


E-mail from Chuck LaRue to Milt Moody - Thursday, September 16, 2004 3:08 PM

Hi Milton,

I'm not 100% sure of this but I think your hawk is a Common Black Hawk. I say this a bit chaginedly because I see them occasionally here in central AZ but yet am not certain from your photos. But the bird seems to have too extensive white in the cere for zonetail, the wingtips appear to fall too short on the tail for zonetail and appears good for black hawk, the legs look good for black hawk and too long for zonetail. In the photo of it leaning the gestalt looks good of black hawk. The ID from the pics would almost be easier of they were a bit more distant! Again I am not certain of my guess here and you might want to circulate it some. One way or the other you found a great bird for northern Utah.

Take care,
Chuck LaRue
Flagstaff, AZ

E-mail from Chuck LaRue - September 16, 2004 7:44 PM

 Hi Milton,

 having not seen the bird personally I may be waaay out of line here in still discussing the ID. After my first E-mail to you I looked up all of my reference material at hand. These little ID exercises are a lot of fun because I end up learning stuff I didn't know before. There are a number of  features on your bird that look to be very good for black hawk. 1) the face
 doesn't look like the face of zonetailed to me but looks like classic black hawk. 2) from my references I don't think zonetail ever shows that much white at the end of the tail whereas that is classic for black hawk. 3) zonetails never show wings as short as this bird is showing...they should reach or even extend a bit beyond the tip of the tail 4) the legs are
very long with the tarsus longer than the middle toe which is a black hawk trait  5) the undertail coverts are tipped in whitish which is, I think a black hawk trait and not a zonetail trait. 6) on the first photo the out of place secondary looks more like a black hawk's than a zonetailed's (I would need to double check this with skins). Finally, although not diagnostic, the habitat and behavior is more consistent with black hawk than zonetail. I forwarded your link to Tom Huels at the U of A to see if he can compare your photos directly to skins.

Again I am not certain until I could check skins etc. so forgive my lingering doubts. I forwarded your link on to several birders in southern AZ including a good raptor specialist with extensive experience in tropical and subtropical raptors. I'll forward their comments if and when they ever come in. You should try to get some more pics and observations of it
if you can.

With apologies for possibly flogging a dead horse,


P.S. to above e-mail:

oh hey! I just looked at the pics again after sending off that last E-mail to you before closing out the link and your bird IS a black hawk absolutely for one real simple and obvious reason: the white on black hawk tail's is white from both above and below. On zonetail it is white from below but grayish from above. Your bird is showing whitish from above.



E-mail - 17 Sep 2004 -  8:30 AM
(... [Dr. David Ellis] is one of the foremost raptor biologists with extensive experience in the tropics and neotropics as well as Arizona. ~ Chuck LeRue) 

Hi Chuck:
... Everything about the bird screams black hawk (but greater or common?). As you know, blacks are so easy to tell from zone-tails when in flight, but the patterns of featherless areas in lores and long bare legs safely says black even in a non-flying photo...   David H. Ellis


E-mail with attached photo - 17 Sep 2004 -  12:25 PM
(Here is the reply from Dave Stejskal who leads tours for Field Guides. ~ Chuck LeRue)


Looks like a Buteogallus to me. I've enclosed a picture that I just recently took of a juv. Zone-tailed and you can see the different bill shape, the longer wings, and the gray lores, all of which contrast with the hotline hawk. Hope that helps.



E-mail to Milt Moody - 19 Sep 2004 - 5:06 AM

Several of us down here in the regular range of Zone-tailed have looked at the photos and concluded that it's consistent with Common Black-Hawk instead of Zone-tailed.   ~ Mark Stevenson, Tucson, AZ


E-mail From Christie Van to Chuck LaRue - 19 Sep 2004 - 8:02 PM

Uuh, I'm inclined to think this might be a Black Hawk. The tarsus looks really long for a Zonetail, and primaries do not reach the end of the tail. Also appears to have more white on the terminal band than a Zonetail, see attached photo. Is this what you're thinking?




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