Yesterday, however, the raptor perched up there was quite a bit larger than the kestrel. Kestrels, also called "sparrow hawks", are the smallest of the hawks in the US. Our bird yesterday was sitting on the top of the tree bending it over from its weight. Not a kestrel!
Another frequent sighting in our neighborhood is Cooper's Hawk, an accipiter that hunts small birds. There is a resident pair that raises young each year nearby. But, it wasn't a Cooper's Hawk either, not with its bulkier build and dark markings on the face.
We decided it was worth fetching the binoculars for a better look. I waited with Angel while my sweetie hot-footed it back to the house. The reason I stayed behind was to watch to see if the bird flew. The shape and colors on the underside of the wings and the tail can give clues as to the identity of a raptor, as can the style of flight. The bird, however, kindly stayed put.
We both checked it out, noting its overall brownish hue. The markings on the breast were a warm brown, the back a darker brown, with a strong mustache mark coming down the side of the face through the eye. Prairie falcon perhaps? We've both seen them often along the washes (dry river beds except during monsoon thunderstorms) through the city, but the nearest large wash is a good two miles away.
I suggested Peregrine Falcon, but they tend more towards darker color less in the brown range and our only sighting in the city was one I spotted flying overhead in the city park a few years ago.
We used to be avid birders, frequently going out to good areas to watch birds, taking the binoculars on our hikes, and keeping up with the local birding news. In the past few years, though, we dropped that activity in favor of cycling, running, and lately, peak oil/climate change "prepping". We've had a hard time justifying burning gas to drive somewhere to watch birds, so we've only done a little bit in our own neighborhood. Without practice, ID skills fade.
It took a quick check in the bird book to remind us that the Prairie Falcon should have a light line above the eye and a pretty skimpy mustache (review its photo above). This confirmed my impression that the bird was a Peregrine. The warm brown colors were due to its immature status. Juvenile birds often have different plumage than adults. It was a thrilling way to start the day!