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Birds in Spain
by Andrea CorsoSpanish birds September 2006
While the identification of nominate Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus rufinus does not show any particularly difficulties in the field, apart when we consider mainly the well marked/patterned juvenile, chiefly when bleached and abraded, compared to pale plumages of Common Buzzard (both buteo and vulpinus race) or birds to be determined just by photographs (therefore without the real possibility to judge and study silhouette, structure and behaviour), the identification of the quite different and separated North African taxon Buteo rufinus cirtensis its still nowadays a true threat and challenge for any raptors freak.
In this short account, done as a tribute to my friend Ricard Gutièrrez, I wish to briefly summarise the main characters to at least try to identified putative cirtensis, in particular the 2 birds from Spain of the summer-autumn 2006:
In fact the really different silhouette of nominate give a strong help in the identification process, however, being cirtensis a smaller (sometimes as small as a vulpinus) bird with shorter wings. This great help may often result void or partially helpful only and to a very experienced eye (see further under silhouette).
is rather richly coloured, with a tendency to orange or orange-reddish
colour even stronger than in nominate (where we note a more rufous-brownish
or rufous-rusty gradient of colour); usually the breast and the neck-head
is as in nominate paler, compared to vent/belly but even more usually compared
to the darker the thigh-feathers and flanks (figure
1, figure 2).
The tail is
very often also very rich coloured and again with same colour trend (figure
3) resulting in an immediately
different bird from any vulpinus, even the most colourful fox-red-morph
(sensu Forsman, 1999; Clark, 1999; Shirihai et alii). Paler more creamy
bird are yet quite different from pale vulpinus being much richer coloured
and yet with quite strikingly paler head.
Figure 4 Abraded Juvenile, typical morph. A. Corso - Tring Museum
Here we come
with the problems. In fact, contrariwise to what usually illustrated or
even written in any filed guide, there is a wide spectrum of morphs, or
plumages, in cirtensis too. Apart the fact that also a dark morph,
even if really extremely rare (0,1%?), does in fact exist (Corso &
Cardelli 1999; A. Corso, C. Cardelli, L. Maumary, O.Janni, P.Wolf, B. Caula,
et alii pers. obs.), there is a wide range of darker, more reddish
or rusty plumages, some of them often tinged also brownish or soil-brown.
Those plumages appear to be much closer to many plumages of vulpinus,
chiefly the fox-red morph but also pale examples of the grey-brown morph
or intermediate pale birds/rufous birds (figure
they can show a well barred tail even when full adult and fully reproductive
mature (in nominate, 1st to 2nd adult plumage tail could show some kind
of barring too, most often sparse, or irregular and narrow, but sometimes
rather prominent yet irregularly distributed), with that barring and the
tail appearing almost identical to vulpinus: a reddish-rufous or
rusty-orangish tail with several darker bars, with the (sub)terminal one
being wider, darker, more marked and therefore more contrasting (figure
In such plumage, the best distinguish characters to be used are:
1) a solid, rather wide and obvious dark, blackish to black, carpal patch, usually lacking in fox-red morph vulpinus (but see Corso, in prep. for further details on intermediate populations buteo-vulpinus and other morphs) or rarely visible but less contrasting.
2) silhouette, as for nominate, even if less dramatic, differences with vulpinus: effectively, cirtensis even if a smaller more compact bird it still does appear to have longer wing compared to body (but beware of wings or odd body position in photographs), longer tail, a more Aquila-like field appearance. Also body more corpulent, heavier, bigger-headed, stronger, same for neck, stronger and more powerful feet (sometimes even visible on close by flying birds) and legs in general, higher, stronger and more powerful looking bill. When perched, the tail-tip project well beyond the wing-tip while in vulpinus these are level or almost so (less in juveniles and differences in general less obvious at this age). While facing us in soaring, wing hold in a deeper V position, more than vulpinus.
3) behaviour: if the two taxa are observed while hovering, the hovering style seems to be distinctive (see Corso, in prep.).
4) tail barring: the bars in the tail of cirtensis usually less regular, with bars themselves usually less numerous (chiefly in central feathers often- 3/6) and thicker where regular and defined or otherwise very narrow and scanty were irregular, (sub)terminal band usually less regular and with a varying width (but very variable and often identical to vulpinus). However, some birds show a tail almost identical to pale tailed, richer coloured vulpinus.
5) Other minor details that will be discussed in my forthcoming paper.
we take into account the darkest juveniles, the matter is further complicated
and some birds, often most, should be left unidentified (figure
Regarding the Spanish birds seen in September 2006 I can only suggest my point of view not having seen myself the birds in the field (when I would have probably been more helpful) and this is only the putative identification as I like to be conservative as very professionally and seriously our master Dick Forsman has done here.
I think the
Spanish birds seen at Cazalla bird observatory, Tarifa, Cádiz on
23.9 and at Guadalmesí, Cádiz on 14.9. may well be cirtensis,
most probably the Guadalmesi one. Ageing result quite hard with the
Cazalla bird looking more like and adult (more complete secondaries
length and pattern, apparently 2-3 different shade of primaries bleaching
indicating possibly 2-3 moult waves…but we deserve much far better photos
or field view) while the Guadalmesi more like a 3rd cy retarded or an advanced
2nd cy. For this last, even if cirtensis born earlier than vulpinus
and nominate rufinus, a 2nd cy in September would show S4
with juvenile pattern, therefore with a narrower and less dark terminal
bar (in this bird is already adult-like even if shorter length as normal),
should show more bleached and abraded wing coverts and partially scapulars,
tail should show only one moult wave while it seems to show at least 2
moult waves with different generation and length, and all of them already
adult-like, not any still juvenile like, some underwing coverts should
still show paler streaking etc. etc.
Pointing in favour of cirtensis, at least for the Guadalmesi is that the structure seems to point in favour of this taxon (see above), though due to body and wing posture in the photos the real silhouette can not be judged easily and certainly, however the head appear to be rather strong and big, well protruding, same for the bill quite heavy and high (photo 1), facial expression of the Guadalmesi very aggressive and wild, more Aquila-like as well as showing a quite long gape, legs rather long and strong as well as looks the feet, the wing appear rather long and narrow though in the Cazalla bird (see below) the wing and body posture make them appearing too broad as an Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus (therefore confusingly similar to vulpinus), tail rather long etc., in both birds the carpal patch is quite dark and contrasting, quite solid and extensive, the tail appears rather rich coloured with barring rather irregular, in the Guadalmesí bird (photo 1), these are very scarce being 2-3 in the T1-4,with pattern exactly alike figure 6, while in the other birds rather more numerous but thick and not as many as typical vulpinus apparently (and from below always harder to judge), the iris colour in the 3rd cy possibly to pale for a similar aged vulpinus, the general colour possibly too rusty-reddish, the undertail coverts and vent quite uniform, not barred, especially in the Guadalmesi bird, etc..
In any case, they prove to be vary hard to be identified by using only photos and the identification is in my opinion only tentative. Especially the Cazalla bird could well be a vulpinus and without looking it in tte field I would not be 100% sure, instead the Guadalmesi one more probably being a cirtensis, to me eyes almost certainly.
I wish to thanks first and foremost Katrina Cook of the staff of the Tring Museum, UK, for her special kindness and courtesy in visiting the skins collection there. All photos of stiffed birds here courtesy of Tring museum
is dedicated to the memory of Michele Vigano’s father, a truly great man
as is his special son.
Identification of vulpinus (no accepted records in Spain yet) and rufinus cirtensis is a difficult subject hence the extreme interest of this note and also the interesting comments sent by readers on the Cazalla bird above illustrating the difficulty of this subject. We would like to thank them all and particularly Andrea Corso as well for this very interesting and instructive input:
(Finland) kindly commented on the September 2006 page on the Cazalla
bird what follows: 'The
is interesting. I was sent excellent pictures of this same bird from
(Gibraltar) on 5.10.2006 wrote us the following on the Cazalla bird:
- Garcia, E.F.J. (2004) Field Identification of Northwest African Long-legged Buzzards Buteo rufinus cirtensis Gibraltar Bird Report 2002: 40-46.
Vigano (Italy), on discussing both birds, commented on 30.9:
and later on 2.10:
bird on your site is in effect quite different [from
the Guadalmesí bird, ed.comment], especially
in shape and silhouette: the wings look shorter and rounded, the tail short
and the head not that big as in the cirtensis!
Rodríguez (Spain) on 27.9 commented what follows on the Cazalla
bird (translated from Spanish)
Some notes on the identification of African Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis
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