Zone-tailed Hawk sightings – January 2016

As early as October of this past year 2015, the Zone-tailed Hawk has begun re-appearing in Orange County.  I first located one this fall on October 6 in Lake Forest however they have been seen in Rancho Santa Margarita and other local foothill areas sporadically since then.  The Zone-tailed Hawk (ZTHA) have been known to commingle with Turkey Vultures when in flight to help camouflage themselves to their prey below.  Though we are most familiar with Turkey Vultures, we may tend to overlook this one similar looking species.  A few comparative points on the ZTHA are the large white bands on its black under tail while.  Quite visible while in flight as in the images below and hence it’s name.  Bear in mind the Turkey Vultures head structure overall is quite different than the Zone-tailed Hawk both from a bill standpoint and head coloration.  Another good rule of thumb is the ZTHA’s typically appear here in Orange County (if at all) during fall and winter but of course anything can happen at anytime.

Here’s an image of both the Turkey Vulture and Zone-tailed Hawk for comparison purposes.  Note the worn look of the ZTHA at Serrano Creek Trail (middle image) especially its left wing and tail corner.  Also the male ZTHA has one wide band and one narrow band if you are able to see both.  Both of these appear to be males below.  Females are larger in size and have one wide band and two narrower band on its tail should you be fortunate enough to see two flying together.  Additional tips welcome

Photo taken at El Toro Memorial Park Cemetery, Lake Forest, CA on January 4, 2016
Photo taken at El Toro Memorial Park Cemetery, Lake Forest, CA on January 4, 2016
Photo taken at Serrano Creek Trail, Lake Forest, CA on October 6, 2015
Photo taken at Serrano Creek Trail, Lake Forest, CA on October 6, 2015
Turkey Vulture taken at Laguna Niguel Regional Park on March 6, 2013
Turkey Vulture taken at Laguna Niguel Regional Park on March 6, 2013

2 Responses

  1. Ive seen these a lot in Irvine. I’m searching it because I have a small dog (about 6 pounds) and their presence concerns me.

  2. The Zone-tailed Hawk is pretty scarce with only a handful of sightings each year. The more likely similar candidate is a Turkey Vulture. Note the head and bill when you see this species. The head is red in color and the bill is a bone white. The Zone-tailed Hawk has none of these features as in the image. Turkey Vultures are here year round and I’ve seen as many as 30 at one time though that’s less common. More than likely 1 to 6 as an estimate would be probable. Hope this helps. PS doubtful they would attack your pooch but certainly a Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk or other raptor might if small enough. I’ll try and upload Turkey Vulture photos in the Photo Gallery soon for your reference.

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