Books on Hawks

This brief introduction is to help you identify the hawk books that may be best for you. The general recommendation is to purchase the Clark & Wheeler field guide and a silhouette guide. After hawkwatching several times, select a flight identification guide or two. All books except the Field Guide to Hawks may be difficult to find in regular bookstores. Many Mass Audubon shops carry at least several of these publications, all of which are available through Audubon's Drumlin Farm Gift Shop in Lincoln. Some are recently out of print but may be available online, through used book dealers, or book sales.

Field Guides

Field Guide to Hawks, by William S. Clark and Brian K Wheeler. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Second Edition. 2001. The only true field guide to North American hawks. The text by Bill Clark and Brian Wheeler is comprehensive and the detailed illustrations by Brian Wheeler show how the hawks look when seen close up, perched and in flight. This is the first (but not the only) hawk guide you should buy. If you see the first edition available, buy that as well, because it is significantly different from the second and is not entirely superseded by the new edition.

A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors, by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark. San Diego: Academic Press, 1995. This spectacular book contains several hundred gorgeous full-color photographs of 43 species of North American hawks. Complementing A Field Guide to Hawks, it provides superb photographs of the various plumages of each species, including 46 photographs of Red-tailed Hawk alone! The relatively brief text supplements that of the Field Guide. The book closes with a special section on 14 raptor identification problems.

Book Review by Steve Anderson

Hawks from Every Angle, by Gerry Liguori
Most hawkwatchers I know find that part of the allure, fascination, enjoyment and challenge of our pursuit is being able to identify the birds. As we are all aware, this task can sometimes be difficult due to a variety of factors including but not limited to distance, wind and weather conditions, lighting , and the generally indifferent and uncooperative attitude of the subjects. The stated purpose of a recently published book, “Hawks From Every Angle- How To Identify Raptors In Flight”, is to make raptor identification “easier and more fun”. I have yet to field test it and am eager to do so {The fall migration is almost upon us!}, but my sense from reading, revisiting and reflecting a bit on this rich volume is that it will deliver on both counts. The writer and primary photographer, Jerry Liguori, is a noted raptor conservation biologist and renowned authority on hawk identification. He has observed, studied, and photographed birds of prey for more than two decades. During that time, he has developed and refined an approach and a method for figuring out with great accuracy and reliability which bird is what. He confesses in the book’s preface to having “…mistaken almost every raptor species for something else”, and then shares his experience and expertise in thoughtful, thorough text and striking images so that we may be much less likely to do the same.

Whether you’re a novice who can’t tell a Kestrel from a Kingfisher or an advanced birder trying to distinguish a male Goshawk from a female Coop, this book will bring your skills to a new level. It goes far beyond the basics and presents the subtle but discernible and significant finer points of correctly naming these wonderful creatures. Clear discussions cover behavior as well as appearance. How a hawk flaps, sails, glides, and soars can provide a wealth of information. The excellent photos display the detailed cues and clues that may reveal to the keen observer not only the species, but often times the age, sex, morph, and, in the case of the Peregrine Falcon, the race of the raptor in your field of view. If there’s such a thing as an instant classic, “Hawks From Every Angle” must certainly be one. Make room for this remarkable work on your bookshelf along side “Hawks in Flight” and “A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors”, and be sure to put it in your daypack the next time you venture out. Thank you, Mr. Liguori.

Flight Identification Guides

The best time to see the most hawks is when they are migrating, with the greatest numbers seen in the fall at most locations. Looking at hawks in flight quickly reveals the limitations of standard birding field guides, and even the Clark & Wheeler guide, that rely on good views of the birds so that color may be well seen. Often, you will see little more than a black silh2ouette moving through a lighter sky. Colors, and frequently patterns of contrast, are not visible. What you can see is relative size, shape and behavior. This led to the development of two inexpensive silhouette guides that are very helpful in the field.

A Field Guide for Hawks Seen in the North East by the New England Hawk Watch. 6 pp. $1. The first popular silhouette guide, its describes the flight identification of 16 species seen in the northeast. Available from the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch and some bookstores, including Mass Audubon. The silhouette guide's success gave rise to three excellent guides to hawks in flight.

Hawk Watch: A Guide for Beginners by Pete Dunne, Debbie Keller and Rene Kochenberger. Cape May Point, NJ: Cape May Bird Observatory, 1984. An outstanding guide for beginners, with chapters on hawkwatching, diurnal raptors, equipment, how to observe hawks, interpreting data, and submitting reports on your observations. Excellent line drawings by David Sibley and clear text describing key field marks of each species make the book easy to use. It covers 16 species seen in the northeast. The book is not generally available commercially, but can be obtained at some Audubon shops or ordered directly from Cape May Bird Observatory.

Hawks in Flight by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. A classic. Pete Dunne's exquisite prose evokes vivid images of the hawks as you usually see them in the field. Excellent line drawings by Sibley and superb black-and-white photographs by Sutton make this book invaluable. A follow-on to Hawk Watch, it covers many more species (23) seen in North America and provides more detailed discussions of subtle differences in shape and behavior. However, it lacks the information on hawkwatching equipment, procedures, reporting, etc., contained in the precursor. The two books are complementary.

The Mountain and the Migration by James J. Brett. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Two features make this book distinctive. It devotes 40-plus pages to the history and natural history of the first and most famous hawk watch site in the world, Hawk Mountain. That is followed by chapters on hawk migration and hawk identification and 35 pages of line drawings and text on hawk identification in flight. It is unique for showing a wide variety of postures for each species in flight.

Video in Flight

Hawk Watch: A Video Guide to Eastern Raptors, Dick Walton and Greg Dodge, Brownbag Productions (45 minutes, $34.95) Newly released last year, this video includes in-the-field footage of 19 species of hawks likely to be seen from Eastern hawk watches with narration by Dick Walton based on many of the principles of hawk identification in Dunne and Sibley's Hawks in Flight (see above). The video comes with a an accompanying brief booklet, and includes a humbling video quiz on flying hawks at the end of the tape. The video is an essential reference.

“LOOKING SKYWARD” A Passion for Hawkwatching
Migration Productions

2006 Woods Hole Film Festival Winner - Best Film, Cape Cod Section

Hawk watchers are a different breed of birders, gathering in large numbers on mountaintops and rocky outcrops to observe the annual migration. “Looking Skyward” examines this tribal community and their fascination with birds of prey. Included are video footage of a wide range of raptors in flight (provided by Don Crockett exploration of some of the prime locations for viewing in the Northeast, as well as interviews with Pete Dunne, Bill Clark, Laurie Goodrich and others.
Purchase at: Buteo Books  or ABA sales

Natural Histories

Birds of Prey by Ian Newton (ed.). New York: Facts on File, 1990. An incredible introduction to birds of prey excluding owls). It focuses on what makes each hawk family unique, followed by seven chapters on raptor biology and three on hawks' relations with humans. Top experts wrote each chapter and numerous fascinating sidebars in very readable prose. Global in scope, the book is filled with spectacular color photographs. No other single book can convey a better understanding or appreciation of hawks.

Handbook of North American Birds, Volumes 4 & 5, Diurnal Raptors, Parts 1 & 2 by Ralph Palmer (ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. If you want to learn more about the life history of a particular species, there is no better source at which to start. These encyclopedic volumes provide the best, most complete and most recent "natural histories" or species accounts of North America's hawks generally available. This is the best reference work on our hawks. There are few illustrations.

Advanced Reading

Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks by Paul Kerlinger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. This examines how hawks migrate, with most examples taken from North American species. The book is not directed to the beginner, but to people who are professionals in the field or have spent some time hawkwatching and would like to better comprehend how hawks migrate. It is jammed with information, e.g., how high do they fly, how fast, how far, and how do they determine where they are going, but it is not a quick or easy read for the beginner.

Population Ecology of Raptors by Ian Newton. Vermillion, South Dakota: Harrell Books, 1979.A masterpiece by one of the world's leading authorities on hawks, and one of the best writers in the field. Global in application, the topics of breeding, migration, wintering, mortality, persecution, and conservation are discussed in much greater depth than in Birds of Prey, This more technical book is directed to a more experienced audience.

Raptors of Eastern North America by Brian K. Wheeler, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003. Raptors of Western North America by Brian K. Wheeler, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.Two excellent volumes that are best characterized as guides, not field guides. They are rich with numerous superb color photographs of each species, the most up-to-date range maps, and extensively detailed descriptions of the known plumages for each species. The eastern volume is 437 pp. long and the western 544 pp. Both are directed towards the advanced hawkwatcher; not the beginner.

Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch, 2008
To contact EMHW, email
EMHW, PO Box 663, Newburyport, MA 01950
updated 07/20/2008