Rough-legged Hawk – Perched vs. Takeoff

It isn’t often that I prefer shots of a perched raptor over images of it taking off. But such is the case with this Rough-legged Hawk I photographed a week ago at Farmington WMA.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I’ve mentioned before that for my tastes this species just might be the most handsome of all North American buteos and I think this pose shows off many of its “best” features well – including the well-defined gape that is often so easy to see on “roughies”. The hawk is sharp, there’s excellent detail, the perch is a natural one and the light angle works well. The background is homogenous blue sky but I’m fine with that because the twigs of the tree help to break it up.

But I’m always after takeoff shots so after a few minutes of photographing the bird with my teleconverter attached I removed it in anticipation of launch.



1/2500, f/9, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

But by the time the hawk took off thin clouds had moved in behind the bird and turned the background to a less desirable (for me) milky-blue. And to make matters worse I dang-near clipped the right wing so I can’t get a pleasing composition without adding canvas which I prefer not to do (though sometimes I do it anyway).

You can’t come much closer to clipping a wing than this without actually doing it. I checked and I only have one pixel to spare between the tip of the wing and the top of the frame.



1/2000, f/9, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

And in the next frame I actually did clip that wing. I always try to anticipate the likely direction of takeoff to give me a better chance at keeping the bird in the frame but in this case I guessed wrong. I predicted it would take off to my left so it could avoid rising up to avoid the branches directly in front of the bird but instead it went to my right and at a steeper angle than I anticipated. As a result I clipped or cut off wings in this and two subsequent images.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all three photos. But if I could keep only one of them it would be the first.


PS – yesterday many readers expressed interest in (and sympathy for) my recent dental woes so here’s a brief update. The gum behind one of my back molars was swollen and inflamed so badly that I couldn’t even close my mouth completely so it was both painful and extremely uncomfortable. The precise cause is undetermined but it may have been an injury suffered while eating an egg roll of all things (crispy pieces cut my gum). There’s also another more ominous possible cause so I’ll return to the dentist next Tuesday (for the third time in a week) for a progress report but for the moment at least much of the swelling is gone and I’m pain-free.

Be careful with those egg rolls!


38 comments to Rough-legged Hawk – Perched vs. Takeoff

  • Really amazing images and beautiful hawk. Perfect timing too.

  • Stunningly beautiful portrait and take-off photos of this Rough-legged. You’ve set the bar!

  • Marty K

    I hope the egg roll was at least a really good one! Mmmmm…egg rolls. 🙂 Glad to hear that you’re feeling better and hope that this is the only issue!

    The pictures are great — a 1-pixel margin is pretty damn cool! This particular Roughie has such gorgeous patterns in its feathers. Plus, I learned a new word: gape.

    • “I hope the egg roll was at least a really good one”

      Marty, It was only fast food but it was good enough – much better than the burger alternative. Both Mia and I love egg rolls.

  • Frank sheets

    Love 1-2. Head angle on them is perfect and ruffled feathers on 1. Sharp. Beautiful photos.

  • Fantastic portrait, Ron! Love everything about that perched raptor image. Audubon would be jealous.
    The next two images are also superb photographs! I keep trying to predict direction of take-off but so far my guessing skill is woefully poor.
    Sure hope your dental issue turns out to be minor and short-lived.

    Here is a famous quote: “The handsomest buteo in the world is the one I just photographed with clarity.”

    (Okay, so I just made that up. But it’s still true – for me.)

  • Dick Harlow

    I agree, this beauty is gorgeous – love the first shot! I also agree I have never seen an ugly raptor!
    I think I like Roughies in particular because they summer in the Arctic and Winter by us. Red-tails are a beautiful raptor, but they don’t hover. They do like to work the thermals however. Roughies and Kestrels hover, which gives them particular importance to me. Not sure why, just that I like their control. Same reason love watching Harriers flying slow and low over a field or meadow.
    Wonderful shots Ron. Glad your mouth feels better!

    • Laura Culley

      Oh yes, redtails DO hover! They generally do it when they’re mousing (other little rodent critters), and while they don’t do it for long periods of time, they can hover longer than you’d think with all that weight (compared to a Kestrel, for example). I’ve always loved watching Mariah do hover flights, along with all the other kinds of flights. My favorite is the wing-over COWABUNGA dive 🙂

      • Dick Harlow

        Why did I know you would reply to my post Laura! VBG! My Red-tail (not really, just that he hangs out in our meadow) sits on top of our bird boxes looking for voles or mice. Never have seen this one or others here in the east hover. Nice to know they do! Thanks.
        But, I have to admit I thought you might also comment on my obsession! Oh well, can’t win them all.

        • Laura Culley

          LOL! I didn’t notice that you called this an “obsession.” LOL! It all seems perfectly normal to me!
          Other than Mariah (female redtail) and Jack (male Harris’ hawk) who are THE most beautiful, I’m really not that fussy. I’m obsessed with the whole lot of them! There is something just so special about raptors and I’m so very privileged to share my life with them. I’ve struggled for YEARS to come up with words that match what’s in my heart and our language just doesn’t go there.
          Ron’s right. They don’t hover often or that long, but it’s a sight to see. Makes my jaw drop to the ground. Granted, my jaw often comes unhinged with raptors, but for good reason 🙂

          • Dick Harlow

            Not to belabor the point, unfortunately my family and my “friends” see my obsession, e.g. truck number plate GYR 00 and my taking pictures of Natural History, Birds in particular, more then family, as a tad weird! However they all are still dear to my heart while I’m trying to catch a shot of Bluebirds eating Winterberry or running outside to catch the right light for a sunset, or a particular butterfly on a flower.

    • “I have never seen an ugly raptor”

      Good point, Dick, neither have I. Even if vultures were technically raptors I wouldn’t think of them as ugly.

      I’ve seen red-tails hovering a few times but not very often and not for very long. It appears to me that in most situations hovering is just too much work for them.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Gyr falcons, Red-tailed, Roughies…all are the “handsomest”… Love howw the Red-tailed reminds of the Golden Eagle(THE best of them all!)…I’m with Rocky on the second shot. Glad you’re pain free…hope your dental miseries are over…An egg roll???? Who knew!!!

  • Laura Culley

    HEY! Redtails are the most handsome of the buteos 😉
    I’ll grant you that this bird (and the other roughies) is a major stunning beauty! Obviously, I’m easily stunned, HOWEVER, I’d also challenge you to find the ugly raptor (in general).
    Interesting how the bird is still holding onto the branch in the second shot, despite that s/he’s readying for flight. Guess it’s not time to let go until you get the updraft going, huh? Evidently I have a lot to learn about flight.
    And personally, I just love the one pixel margin! That’s pretty darn close to perfection! You ROCK!
    Hope the pain/swelling stays away!

    • “Redtails are the most handsome of the buteos”

      I figured that statement of mine would get your attention, Laura! 🙂

      In that second shot I suspect the bird is still pushing upwards with its legs to get the oomph necessary to clear those twigs.

  • Susan Stone

    I am so glad to hear that you are pain free; it’s hard to enjoy anything when serious pain is present. I like all of these shots, the second one best. What fascinates me in the first two shots is that the bird has his feet on two separate twigs instead of just one. And I’m really impressed with how you didn’t clip the wing in the second shot, even though I understand about the composition issue.

  • Robyn Kemp

    So glad to hear you’re feeling better! There’s nothing worse than dental pain (and I’ve had babies)!

    While I like the second shot a lot, I think the first picture is amazing in both composition and detail. I’m not very familiar with the species, living right at the south-eastern edge of their range. Please explain the gape you referred to; I don’t know where to look.

    • Robyn, “gape” is the breadth of the bird’s mouth opening from corner to corner. In that first shot we only see one corner but we can clearly see how far back it goes into the head. A large gape is conducive to swallowing large prey.

  • I really like the top image a lot Ron. It portrays an almost softness to the hawks feathers (soft in a good way, not out of focus soft). An elegant hawk! I am also very impressed with your ability to frame the bird in the composition with only a one pixel border. That must take a lot of practice 😉

    Hope your gum heals up and it was nothing more than some food getting wedged in there. As Judy says, popcorn does that to me all the time, and a few times I ended up with a swollen gum / infection.

    • “That must take a lot of practice’

      That made me smile, Ed – something I needed this morning. Yup, takes a lot of practice and skill to come that close without actually clipping anything!

  • Charlotte Norton

    What a magnificent series Ron!! Thanks for sharing!


  • Den DiMarco

    Ron, I agree that is one handsomely perched bird. I was drawn to the very sharp eye with catch light immediately! And thanks for sharing your thinking on predicting the direction of takeoff. Even if it wasn’t correct in this case, I enjoyed your reasoning and will keep it in mind should I be in a similar situation.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful, clipped wing and all! 🙂 They can sure stretch out! REALLY love the second photo! 🙂 Hopefully dental woes are what they appear to be – popcorn hulls will rain hell like that also.