Red-tailed Hawk In Flight Over A Hillside


1/2500, 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

This is the male of the nesting pair of Red-tailed Hawks I’ve been photographing recently. While his mate is on the nest he likes to perch on some rocks several hundred yards to the south as he presumably “stands guard”. Occasionally he flies back to the nest, sometimes with food and sometimes not, to touch base with his lady. When he does he often hugs the contours of the hill in the background. With the hill so close to the bird it makes it difficult to keep sharp focus on the hawk in flight but I like having the hill in the image.

This isn’t my best photo of a Red-tail in flight but there are several things I appreciate about it, including:

  • the hawk is in full flight at speed rather than having just taken off
  • the hillside “grounds” the bird and gives the image some context which for my tastes is much preferable to a homogenous blue sky as background
  • the hawk doesn’t bisect the horizon which happens so often with this type of shot
  • I happened to catch the bird evenly spaced between the two out-of-focus dried stalks of vegetation sticking up into the sky instead of having one of them pass through the hawk’s body

By now I suspect these hawks are feeding rapidly growing chicks which means the adults will be making many trips to the nest carrying prey. Flight shots with prey are always one of my photographic goals so I look forward to visiting them again.

Always at a respectful distance from the nest of course…


34 comments to Red-tailed Hawk In Flight Over A Hillside

  • Laura Culley

    Sorry to be SO late to this post. As you know, you’ve got my absolute favorite subject, and as usual, OH WOW! What a glorious shot. You just keep knocking photos out of the proverbial ball park, day after day. I’m so thankful for your work and that you share it every day. THANK YOU!
    My guess would be that their kids are in the stage where they’ve got feathers about halfway out, they’re mobile, but not ready to be branchers yet. I’d also guess that mom is insisting that they learn to feed themselves, learning how to operate those lovely feet while balancing on the prey. The parents are hustling to keep these kids fed and they’re turning all that food into big-kid hawks! Just a guess. It would be really cool to see the kids. Baby redtails (and all other critters) are just so darn cute 😉

  • Chris Sanborn

    Just beautiful, and a lovely way to end my work day! As happy as I am to see RTHAs in flight — and almost nothing makes me happier! — I’m ever hopeful to see some babes in the nest. Perhaps when they’re able to sit up and pop up their downy heads over the crib rails?

    • I’d like to get a shot or two of those chicks that would scratch your (our) itch, Chris. We’ll see how it goes…

      But if I do I won’t be getting close to the nest so I’m sure they’ll be significant crops.

  • An image you appreciate!!!
    Power, grace, style. A little before 4am this image is a gift to my bleary eyed self. Thank you.
    I love the context and the composition and wish (uselessly) that I could look that good going about my daily rounds….

  • Alice Beckcom

    A majestic beautiful bird on a mission. I love the ruffles in the feathers. A great shot. Thank you, Ron

  • Marty K

    I like the composition as well. You totally nailed it by framing the bird between those two stalks — I know you planned it that way! 🙂 I also like the shadow that the right wing is casting over his body because it makes his head and that white chest of his even more spectacular in the light. Plus, there’s the big curve in the leading edge of the wings (yay Bernoulli!) that I like so much.

    I saw a redtail in flight yesterday as I was taking the dog to the vet (he’s her favorite person in the world — go figure!) and thought you and your blog community, especially Laura and Mariah. Wish I had some (any?) photographic skills at times like these.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I like the context, too…it helps show that actual flight altitudes aren’t always just way up in the sky, barely visible…love the way the primaries at the wing tips curl against the push back force of the air…

  • Wonderful photograph! By including the hill one can appreciate the sensation of speed as you watch the wind flow through the primaries, see the tilt of the tail for steering, the ruffled feathers of the wings’ leading edges and that look in the eye of this magnificent raptor that leaves no doubt he has a definite purpose.
    Yeah, I know, over-dramatized. Story of my life. But the day an experience such as this becomes “just a bird flying” is the day after I expire.

    Thanks, Ron, for an uplifting start to the day!

  • Susan Stone

    I like having background like the hill, but my eyes have trouble really focusing on the Hawk because of the prominence of the background. That said, I do like the full flight position and the bird’s being between the two plants. That makes a nice frame.

  • April Olson

    I will have to watch for your Red Tail this weekend. I have not been out for three weekends. Bird photography is addicting, I need my fix!

  • Dick Harlow

    Great image Ron, as are all your posted images.
    However, my ill advised anthropomorphizem, says he is watching you. Looking closely at his eye, the catchlight is canted so that to me there is a glint in his eye that says “I’ll fly back to the nest just so Ron can get a shot!” He knows your name you know, just sayen!!
    Or, to look at it another way he trusts you a wee bit!

  • Great image Ron. I like the view looking along the underside of the wing. The image perks my curiosity at first (a good thing) to figure out the setting, was it over a field (no) or is this a rounded hill in the background (yes). I agree with you on having some background other than blue sky in the photo makes it more interesting. Hope you get some nice captures of this beauty with prey, hopefully pocket gophers 😉

  • Barby Anderson

    Wonderful shot Ron! I do not know the “ins” and “outs” of photography, however this was a pleasure to see. As all your photographs are, thank you! This morning I wondered about something, and since you are such a “bird man” I thought you may be able to answer this. Here in Colorado we had a huge blast of rain, snow and cold weather the last couple of days. I am used to seeing the birds hurrying to the tented feeder that I have for them early in the morning. Today was different, even from other snowy days. About 5 birds went to the feeder, and they sat as still as stone for about 20 minutes and I have never seen birds, even in the coldest weather do this first thing in the morning. The fresh warm seed was there and they just sat there above it like stone statues. It was as if they were waiting for their bodies to warm up, however why they did not reach for the seed was something I have never seen. I took a pic of it. Usually in the cold storms they flutter everywhere to eat the first morning seed. Very odd today.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful flight shot Ron!


  • Nikonsteve

    WOW! What a great way to start my day! Having that image on my mind will help me all day. Thank you Ron! A beautiful bird and I agree,a truly nice composition.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful, Ron! 🙂 The composition worked out great – I like having some context for the birds. Feeding young is a full time job for many at present! Looking forward to the chick’s progress. 🙂