Red-tailed Hawk Leaving The Nest (4 shot series)

I think these rugged cliffs are an ideal setting for nesting Red-tailed Hawks.


1/2500, f/6.3, 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

Just over a month ago I spent some time with this mated pair of Red-tailed Hawks in northern Utah as they were completing construction of their nest. The male especially made repeated trips to the nest site carrying sticks and twigs. Here he’s leaving the nest in search of more building material as the female watches his exit.

I’ve posted this image previously but the following three photos are new to my blog. They’re presented in sequence without any skips in the burst.



1/2500, f/6.3, 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

I was surprised to get four images that included both birds as the male lifted off. I suspect that was due to updrafts from the cliff face that slowed him down and allowed him to…



1/1600, f/6.3, 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

become buoyant in the air with very little wing-flapping or air speed. A single half-hearted wing stroke allowed him to almost float off the cliff.



1/2500, f/6.3, 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

His leg posture suggests a strong push-off but after that it was a relatively effortless launch.

I’ll admit to having some mixed feelings about these cliffs as a backdrop. I love their ruggedness that includes completely vertical rock faces, the sagebrush clinging to existence with a precarious hold on the rocks and even the patch of blue sky to provide depth, color and perspective. But the colors of the hawks and the cliffs are so similar that the birds don’t stand out particularly well.

Oh well, those cliffs obviously serve the purposes of the hawks extremely well so who am I to complain…


Note: I was extremely careful to avoid disturbing these hawks at the nest. See this previous post for details.



27 comments to Red-tailed Hawk Leaving The Nest (4 shot series)

  • Laura Culley

    Ah just beautiful, splendiferously so! Of course, you’ve got me with the redtails, but I love it how they blend into their surroundings so well. Like you said, this was a carefully chosen site and it works wonderfully for them and their kids, so QUIT QUIBBLING 🙂 Yes, I know you have to do it, but just STOP…LOL!

    • Laura, Twice I said I loved this setting and only once did I complain about it so you know my vote!

      • Laura Culley

        I know…was just giving you trouble. I’m so envious (in a good way) that you consistently get these shots! When I look back at the days when I first got into falconry, well, even to this day, I have so few photos. There was no way I could manage a hawk, a dog, hunting, and a camera, too. It just wasn’t available. And now I don’t have them. That’s a huge regret. The photos I do have taken by others are so very precious. Even the ones that are out of focus because they were grabbed quickly before the moment disappeared.

  • Simply sublime. I love that they have found such a safe spot to call home. And the camoflague is going to be a boon for the chicks when they first leave that nest too.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I like this series especially for the way the birds blend in with their surroundings, the fortress-like location, the nesting”shelf” and the glimpse of blue sky. Makes me wonder what was above the nest…mesa? Tabletop? More vertical head wall? Was the nest more accessible from above? It’s always amazing that chicks don’t tumble out of the nest..that they stay until ready to fly…

    • Patty, there was more vertical cliff above the nest and then it flattens out up there. I don’t think the nest would be accessible from any direction – that site was very well chosen.

  • Barby Anderson

    Stunning Ron! How I love hawks!

  • Susan Stone

    Beautiful shots of beautiful birds. I wonder if part of the reason they chose that particular area for their nest was the ease of takeoff? I especially like the third shot, with the curve in the male’s wings.

    • You could be partly right, Susan. But I suspect the primary reason for the choice of this nest site is protection from potential ground predators.

  • Dick Harlow

    Great shots Ron, but I understand the “mixed feelings”, muted contrast, etc. You have to go with what you got!!
    Anthropomorphizing, they probably thought this was a safe spot to build a nest! Good survival instincts, probably they will live a long time! You should have these models for awhile.

    • They’re still there, Dick. I saw them again this morning (in terrible light of course…).

    • Patty Chadwick

      Dick-have you ever noticed how often paper wasps build their nests on branches overhanging roads…and wondered why? They are so perfectly protected there …Do they think, weigh options, and decide? Is it REALLY “just instinct”? I’ve seen so many of them overhanging roads, but, inspite of all the time I’ve spent in the woods, I’ve never seen one there…makes me wonder what goes on in those tiny brains…also makes me think we seriously underestimate the “thinking, planning, strategizing” of so many other creatures– writing off more than we should as “just instinct” , whatever the heck that really is….

      • Patty Chadwick

        What about these waps! Ron???

        • Well, since you ask I don’t think it’s “thinking” or deliberate thoughtful planning as we know it in the case of wasps. And there could be lots of variables in the equation of why they’re found one place and not another. But of course I have no solid answers to your question…

        • Patty Chadwick

          Evil iPad strikes, again!!! “Waps”!!!

          • Patty Chadwick

            Not convinced…am more and more inclined to think there are more “deliberate thinkers” out there thsn we s/thinkers realize…for example: I have a ittle tiny, teeny weeny , itty bitty brain and have actual been known to think—-sometimes….

      • Dick Harlow

        Patty, you are up on me. The only nests I’ve observed hanging from a branch or over a road are White-faced Hornet nests. I am sure they build their nests in close proximity to where they can find building and food supplies as well as protection. We humans absolutely love to Anthropomorphize the behavior of all organisms if we can get away with it. I’m just as guilty as the next person! I think the difference is that some organisms nervous systems pick up on environmental and survival situations better than others, and when that happens it is like catnip to humans!

        • Patty Chadwick

          Maybe what I see are the nests of white-faced hornets, not paper wasps, overhanging roads,mbut never in the woods…or maybe they really are WAPS…either way, I’m impressed with the “wisdom” of their choice of building site…

  • Marty K

    Even though the birds don’t pop against the background, there’s a certain harmony in the scene that I like very much.

    I can just imagine their conversation, with her reminding him what to pick up from the “store” and him shooting back an impatient “Yes, dear” as he takes off. 😉

    • They’ve both been hardworking birds, Marty. He was particularly industrious at bringing in nesting material and once the eggs were laid the female has been a devoted incubator. Boring job but someone has to do it…

      • Marty K

        I greatly admire birds for their nest building skills as well as the dedication required to incubate the eggs and raise the babies to fledge — and beyond. I’m still watching the jay nest in my neighbor’s bamboo.

    • Patty Chadwick

      Although I’m delighted when popcorn pops I think it’s gross and very sad when birds do…I’m greatly relieved neither of these beautiful hawks popped….

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful series, Ron! 🙂 Yes, they do blend in well with the background but it certainly shows them in context. Getting focus to lock in when these situations occur is a challenge at times for sure! GHO’s in the trees drive me nuts some days with that! 🙂