Rough-legged Hawk On A Rabbit Kill

I carry a second camera and lens combo with me whenever I’m in the field. Yesterday it paid off handsomely.

When we found this Rough-legged Hawk on a rabbit kill yesterday morning in Box Elder County I didn’t have the opportunity (for complicated reasons) to maneuver my pickup into an appropriate distance from them for the lens I was using. I was simply too close for my 500mm lens (probably even with the teleconverter removed). So I reached over the seat and grabbed my shorter zoom lens with another camera body attached and the bird gave me only a few seconds with it before it took off.

Without the spare body and lens all I’d have is a few images that were too tight on the hawk and rabbit – if I was lucky. If I wasn’t lucky the hawk would have flown off by the time I got my tc removed and the camera reattached to the lens.


1/5000, f/5.6, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

This is one of the few shots I got before the hawk lifted off. Some folks don’t appreciate photos that include partially eaten prey but for me these images epitomize raw nature in a wild and natural setting. They aren’t too gory for my tastes and I appreciate the entire scene with good light on both bird and rabbit, both of them positioned between the two sagebrush, excellent exposure on the snow and enough depth of field to get both bird and prey sharp (even though my camera settings aren’t ideal for the situation).

And I had enough room in the image to crop to a composition that pleases me.



1/5000, f/5.6, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

The hawk never did give me much pose variety but when it turned its head to this angle it put better light on the face so this is my favorite image of the two.

I’m unsure if the rabbit was road kill or prey killed by this hawk or another raptor (both eagle species and Red-tailed Hawks are common in the area). The rabbit was perhaps 15′ off the road (how did it get that far off the road if it was road kill?) in deep snow and it didn’t look mangled like most road kill so I suspect it may have been killed as prey. Rough-legged Hawks normally prefer live prey but they will feed on carrion when the ground is snow-covered which makes their preferred prey less available. And roughies are known to kill rabbits but the only documentation I could find of them doing so was with rabbit prey that is young and/or small (tundra or snowshoe hares).

From Birds of North America Online: “Rabbits can be important winter food, primarily as carrion, and particularly after snow when small mammals are less available”.

Prey or road kill, I’m glad I had my spare camera and lens along on this trip.



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