Shikra - some useful ID features

Shikra is a relatively poorly known Western Palearctic species which can only reliably be seen within the region in Kuwait. Here it is a scarce passage migrant and also a scarce winter visitor. The following tips to aid successful identification are based on my own personal observations on several trips to Kuwait (and sightings in India and The Gambia) and many discussions with Pekka Fagel who lives in the state and has become a dab hand at picking out these tricky accipters. It is not designed to be the definitive id article but merely a pointer in the right direction.

Field guides consistently add to the id problem by getting things wrong and not mentioning what we consider to be the best features to look for. These are:

1) At all ages Shikra has 5, sometimes 6 distinct bands on the underside of the tail. This can be difficult to see in the field but is easily seen on photos. A tip here is to try to get a photo of any suspect bird because that can be the key to identification is many cases.

2) Shikra has a flight silhouette that is somewhere between Sparrowhawk and Levant Sparrowhawk in that it has 5 distinct primary 'fingers' on a soaring bird. Sparrowhawk has 6 whilst Levant Sparrowhawk has only 4 which gives it a very falcon like silhouette.

3) At all ages and in both sexes Shikra shows a distinct dark gular stripe which is absent in Sparrowhawk.

Juvenile Shikra, Kuwait. Showing tail bars, dark wingtip and gular stripe. Copyright Pekka Fagel 

Juvenile Shikra, Kuwait. Showing gular stripe and pale eye ruling out Levant Sparrowhawk which always has a dark eye. Copyright Pekka Fagel

Adult Shikra, India. Showing gular stripe and undertail bars

Adult Shikra, The Gambia. Although a washed out photo the gular stripe and tail barring are still there (honestly!) 

Juvenile Shikra, Kuwait. Note the 5 primary fingers and also the gular stripe even visible on this distant shot. Copyright Pekka Fagel.

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