Light Morph Harlan’s Hawk – A Noteworthy Specimen

by Bryce W. Robinson

Adult light morph "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis harlani

Adult light morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis harlani

I wanted to share this specimen I found today while going through the small bird collection at Boise State University. It is a great example of the variable traits of the Red-tailed Hawk subspecies harlani. I really enjoy the variable plumages of the Red-tailed Hawk in North America. At the top of my list, as with most Red-tailed Hawk fans, is the Harlan’s.

Here are a few things I found interesting when I first found the bird:

  • Some tell-tale light Harlan’s traits – whitish head with streaking, red/pink tail fading to white/gray at the base (Harlan’s tails are ultra variable, but I’ve seen this regularly on light Harlan’s), Harlan’s spotting on tail, warm tones in upper tail and dorsal area, blotchy streaking on belly band.
  • Some not so Harlan’s traits – orange barring on leggings (typical of western RTHA), and barred belly band accompanying blotchy streaking. Strange and neat! Also of note is the amount of red in the tail. Common in Harlan’s, but often confused as a sign of intergradation.

I’m a bit disappointed that the tail wasn’t spread at preparation, so it was difficult to get a full glimpse of each feather. Additionally, there was no informative data accompanying the specimen, apart from a tag that read “Red-tailed Hawk”. As I’ve become more familiar with the art of museum preparation and the usefulness of specimens in research, I’ve become more aware of how important information is to put a specimen into context.

Even though the data is lacking, I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to look at this bird and take some photos. It’s a really interesting light morph Harlan’s that deserves some recognition. It made my day.

For some more insight into variability in light morph Harlan’s, check out this article by Jerry Liguori: