Red-tailed Hawk In A Twisting Takeoff

Raptor takeoffs are always interesting to watch but when the bird is facing one direction but twists on its perch to fly off in another it adds an even more dynamic element to the takeoff posture.


1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Two days ago I spent some time with this adult Red-tailed Hawk in a remote area of northern Utah. It was perched in good light on top of a berry-laden juniper with a hill in the background so I had a mostly clean look at the bird with an interesting backdrop other than blue sky (which I like).

The hawk was facing north and most of the time it was also looking that direction but at one point it turned its head 180° and stared almost directly south and behind it. I wondered if it had spotted something interesting and might take off in that direction and it did. It would have been difficult to turn around on the juniper before takeoff so the bird chose to perform…



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

a twisting takeoff. I was pleased to catch the wings up without clipping them, light in the eye and on the face and a good look at that beautiful red tail.



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

In the next instant the wings were in a graceful angled arc and the tail was spread at a similar angle to facilitate the launch in a direction other than the way the hawk had been facing.

In my experience buteos will usually take off in the direction they’re facing and then make the intended turn after they’ve left the perch and gained some air speed but when they make the turn during launch it can provide some interesting takeoff postures.

Sadly I lost focus on the hawk after this shot.



24 comments to Red-tailed Hawk In A Twisting Takeoff

  • Stephen Clayson


    Really stunning. Sharp and beautiful. I have asked you before and you told us that you use back-button focus. Do you try to track the bird with a single focus point? or nine center points? or what? Do you try to track or do you focus on the perch and then follow without trying to track focus? I keep trying variations on these themes as I try to improve. I also need 12 fps instead of 6 to get some of these shots. Unfortunately that is a fixed number for me now. Advice?


    • Stephen, for birds in flight I’m usually using the center 5 focus points.

      Whether I track in flight or prefocus and then take my finger off the focus button depends on whether or not I think there’s a good chance the bird will take off in the same plane (focal distance) that it’s in perched. It’s a bit of a guessing game.

  • Laura Culley

    Oh MY! What beauty! I’ve been blessed to see these magnificent postures real time and they’re etched in my memory. Thank you so much for adding to my mental images. There’s just nothing like a redtail (well, except for Harris’ hawks, Kestrels, and all the other raptors)!
    So sorry to be late to this series, but I’m trying to emerge from the chaos of moving and that’s what I did yesterday and Sunday. I ran out of energy for email.

  • Un.Believe.Able.
    That second shot is just glorious. And the red-tail certainly had its eye on the prize (which I hope it secured).

    • Ec, I don’t even know what it was after (if anything) so whether it was secured or not is unknown. I’m just glad it took off in the manner that it did. Thanks.

  • Chris Sanborn

    Oh my, oh my — you’ve outdone yourself once again, Mr. D! And though you “sadly” lost focus after that last image — for my money, that last image is too spectacular to top! What a beauty, captured in every glorious detail — and a lovely start to the week — thank you!

  • Judy Tillson

    Beautiful sequence. Must have been wonderful to experience it in the field.

  • Nicole

    Absolutely stunning!

  • Patty Chadwick

    BEAUTIFUL,BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL! It looks like he never took his eyes off of his target. I always love what I call the “fling” position, but the wide-spread wings are so incredibly graceful….

  • Dick Harlow

    Beautiful shots Ron!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Charlotte Norton

    What a wonderful series Ron!

  • Mk

    These are beautiful. It occurs to me they could be an inspiration for those of us who find takeoffs difficult!

  • Marty K

    That second shot is mighty spectacular, Ron! I’m intrigued as to what tasty morsel drew his attention and made him choose to increase the degree of difficulty scores of his takeoff. Hopefully, he got what he was after as expertly as you got these shots! 🙂

    • Marty, To be honest I can’t remember where the bird went immediately after this takeoff but it definitely seemed to have something in mind when it took off. The second shot is also my favorite.

  • Judy Gusick

    Just flat gorgeous, Ron! 🙂 Glad you were able to anticipate what it might do for take off and get the shots cleanly. Bird/bush/background came together perfectly even if you did lose focus in short order. 🙂