Dark Morph Red-tailed Hawk

Salem Road and Highway 401 in Ajax, Durham Region on 4 March 2007

Juvenile dark morph Red-tailed Hawk perched on lights beside ramps on Salem to the 401.  4 March 2007


Note pale yellow eye and well barred tail of juvenal plumage. Note rufous in the tail, which supports this bird being of northern origin rather than "Western" origin

It's usually assumed that dark morph birds seen in Ontario are "Western" Red-tailed Hawks (subspecies calurus) because dark morphs are very rare in "Eastern" Red-tailed Hawks. However, a few dark morph birds occur in northernmost populations of Red-tailed Hawks in Eastern Canada. These "Northern" Red-tailed Hawks were given the subspecies name 'abieticola' (meaning dweller of the fir) but it hasn't been formally accepted by the AOU.

Nevertheless, northern birds differ from typical Eastern Red-tails in southern Ontario, and darker birds occur in this northern population. In many ways Northern Redtails (abieticola) are intermediate between typical Western (calurus) and Eastern Red-tailed Hawks (borealis). The Ajax bird could have hatched in northern Ontario or northern Quebec. Further support that this dark morph is of northern origin is rufous in the tail, easily seen in the photos. Rufous is frequent in the tails of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks in the east and infrequent in juvenile Western Red-tailed Hawks.


Note unfeathered lower legs (tarsi), which are feathered to the toes on dark morph Rough-legged Hawk.