One Of The Scroungiest Looking Red-tailed Hawks I’ve Photographed

Most birds I post on my blog are attractive and well coiffed. I’m posting this one for exactly the opposite reason.


1/2500, f/7.1, 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 photographed the bird three days ago as it took off from a rocky hilltop in northern Utah. Even when I looked at the photos on my camera screen I could see that its plumage was in very poor shape, presumably from normal wear and tear and molting. The wing secondaries and the tail in particular are missing many feathers but even its body plumage looks pretty rough.

I’m not disparaging the hawk for its looks – after all, birds have to molt and besides I’m no “pretty boy” myself but I still had to smile when I saw the photo.

And I think the flying insects add to the overall flavor of the image. I’m pretty sure they’re deer flies – those buggers seemed to be everywhere at that location. They weren’t visible until the bird took off so they must have been on the rocks and then were disturbed by the commotion of takeoff. It doesn’t take deer flies long to fly anywhere – entomologists have clocked their flight speed at 90 mph. No wonder they can be hard to swat!

I probably would never have posted this image without the deer flies. For me the combination of the ratty plumage and the flying insects complemented each other. Others may not share my enthusiasm for it and that’s ok.

As a kid my mother always told me that I had a warped sense of humor…


38 comments to One Of The Scroungiest Looking Red-tailed Hawks I’ve Photographed

  • Laura Culley

    Looks like that young man had a ROUGH winter! In addition to a bath, he could use a good preening session! It’s never good when you’re drawing flies…LOL! Thankfully, a whole new set of brand-new shiny feathers are on their way. Would that we could molt and replenish our good looks, huh?
    Speaking of drawing flies, I went to town today and on the way out, I saw a pair of turkey vultures dining on a dead jackrabbit. Knowing some of the idiots around here, I stopped and threw the rotting jack out of the road so they could dine safely, despite that this is a two-lane dirt road. The jack’s legs were still comparatively attached so the procedure went well. I drove off, watching in my rear-view mirror and before I’d gone half a mile, the vultures had returned to their feast. On the way back, there was nothing left. My good deed of the day is accomplished 😉

    • Good for you, Laura. I wish more folks gave a damn about stuff like that.

      • Laura Culley

        It’s a no brainer Ron. I love vultures, I’m NOT afraid of getting dirty (even though they’d made a royal mess of the stomach and intestines), I’ve got wipes in the Jeep, and I’d have been busted hearted if I’d come back to find dead vultures in the road. Soon, they’ll get to know and trust me. The rabbits, on the other hand, will PAY for eating my tomato plants 🙂 Just you wait!

  • Marty K

    Those flies certainly add insult to injury…biting little bastards! Even with the molt and the fly accompaniment, his inherent majesty still shines through.

    We’ve jumped from crane flies and mosquitos (no, autocorrect, they don’t deserve to be capitalized!) to June bugs and mosquitos. Yuck. *Scratch Scratch*

    Now I have the old camp song “Flea Fly Mosquito” in my head. Itchy itchy scratchy scratchy ooh it’s on my backy backy! (You’re welcome. 😉 )

    • Nice try, Marty. But I’ve never heard that song so I don’t know the tune. No ear worm for me this time!

      • Marty K

        You’re telling me you never learned this one at camp? Oh what a deprived childhood you had. 😉 There are a bunch of different versions (Flea fly flow vs. Flea fly mosquito). The Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded a version of flea fly flew. I can’t be the only one here who knows it. I feel so alone… Snifffffff. 😉

  • Trying again. Some days WordPress hates me.

    That poor hawk. Moulting and being bitten is just so unfair.

    You are not alone in your warpdom either. Not at all alone.

  • Alice Beckcom

    I feel sorry for this bird that is going through molting and then has to put up with those ‘mean’ deer flies. They are vicious!! Hope the bird recovers from this soon. Educational post!!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Back from Vacation and catching up on your blog posts! Love this photo – flies an’ all!!

  • Patty Chadwick

    I’m surprised to see a bird of prey lose that many feathers at one time….educate me, please…

    • Sorry, Patty. I don’t know a lot about molting. But as I’m sure you know, some birds lose so many flight feathers at the same time they’re incapable of flight.

      • Patty Chadwick

        I somehow, somewhere, got the idea that most birds of prey only lost a few feathers at any one time…not as many as most other birds do….

  • Susan aka blue

    Funny. Warped. Now I like you even more.

  • April Olson

    I always wonder if new feathers are somewhat painful. Our parrot and one of our imprinted sparrows are always grumpy and unpleasant when going through a hard molt.

  • Susan Stone

    What’s warped about liking an image with flies in it? Maybe this RTH was so scroungy they were getting ready to eat it? To me, the facial expression of the RTH looks like the bird can’t figure out why it’s surrounded by flies. Fun image.

  • Barby Anderson

    Oh my. That looks sad. It looks like a coyote that has been infested with mange! I hope it is just molting and not some mite etc. Poor guy.

  • Ann Lewis

    Poor guy. He looks he was rode hard and put away wet.

  • Dick Harlow

    Swat, Swat, Swat – Deer Flies (Green Heads around here and on the coast) the bane of my field work years ago.
    I can see in the hawks eyes the desire to rid him/herself of those blood sucking flies regardless of the feather condition.
    Fun post.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I’m glad you identified those dark specks as flies….otherwise I might have assumed that they were just pieces of that scroffulous-looking birds coming apart…At least that bird has enough feather power left to fly!

    • Patty, I’ve always marveled at how well severely molting birds are still able to fly. They must instinctively compensate in so many ways…

  • Charlotte Norton

    Asupershot! I would never have been able to see these flies if not for your shot. Glad you have a warped sense of humor!


  • Judy Gusick

    It all fits! 🙂 The hawk plumage IS in rough shape – hopefully the molt will take care of it soon! Deer flies are NOT fun for anything. Thx for sharing some of the “real life” for the hawk.

  • Dominique Gusset

    Haha! I smiled 🙂