Fledgling Red-tailed Hawk Trying To Walk A “Tightrope”…

and you can probably imagine the amusing results. Yesterday morning in northern Utah this very young hawk made my day.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 371 mm, not baited, set up or called in

Well, I guess it isn’t really a tightrope, but it’s close. It’s a long, rusty and sloping pipe that’s part of a rectangular fence-like enclosure – here we see only one corner of it. And the bird is one of the three Red-tailed Hawk fledglings I’ve been watching at what I refer to as the “cliff nest” for some time. I don’t know its sex but this time for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to it as a female (Facebook blog follower Muffy S. Gately has gently reminded me that in the past I’ve always referred to unsexed birds as males and that’s something I needed to be corrected on…).

This young hawk has only recently fledged and she’s still awkward and clumsy – especially while trying to negotiate new obstacles and experiences. She (and both of her siblings) are flying well now but when they have to use their feet and balance on solid substrates they’re usually gawky, inelegant and graceless – much to my amusement.

Here she’s apparently decided that she wants to get to the far side of the rectangular enclosure and she’s considering walking it along the length of the pipe (she could easily fly there which I saw her do later). She actually seems to be studying her potential pathway and making a plan.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

She couldn’t resist the beckoning sloped pipe so she hunched her shoulders and in a bold and determined manner set out to walk it to the other end.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

But she ran into trouble at the get-go and had a difficult time maintaining her balance.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

Each step was fraught with peril and almost immediately…



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

her left foot began to slip off the side of the pipe.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

Using her wings she was able to recover…



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

but the recovery didn’t last long. Once again that unreliable left foot…



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

slipped off the pipe and this time it was almost her downfall (literally).



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

She barely managed another recovery but by now she realized that she’d met her match so…



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 349 mm, not baited, set up or called in

she gave up. She turned her back to me and studied that damned pipe again, seeming to try to gain an understanding as to why it had been so difficult to walk. As you can see she only made it a couple of feet before she had to abandon the attempt and she probably had at least 20 more feet to go before she made it to her destination on the far side of the enclosure so eventually she flew to get there.

Given the depressing funk I was in yesterday morning (see yesterday’s post if you don’t know what I’m referring to) this young hawk was my salvation. Her trial on the pipe (there were several of them, actually) amused me and lifted my spirits and the long drive home was much more pleasant because of her antics.

Once again a bird saved my day and I thanked her out loud as I drove away from the enclosure.




52 comments to Fledgling Red-tailed Hawk Trying To Walk A “Tightrope”…

  • Brian

    A well told story that I am sure brightened many people’s days. Thanks for sharing. I went through the pictures a second time just to admire the magnificence of this learner and imagine my own narrative ( and contemplate the gender question based on the behavioral evidence). A fantastic post, Ron!

  • Chris Sanborn

    A brilliant series, from first to last — and great storytelling to boot! I kind of imagine her (*thank you, Muffy*) saying to herself, “I think I can, I think I can” … until she realizes she can’t, not yet anyway. And in the last pic where she’s glaring at the rail, she’s like Snoopy: “Curse you, Red Baron!” But she’ll be back! 😁 Thanks so much, Ron, for finding these fabulous birds and making them part of our lives through your wonderful photography.

    • “*thank you, Muffy*”

      Sometimes I’m a bit of a slow learner but eventually I usually catch on, with a little help from my friends! Thank you Chris. And Muffy… 🙂

  • Yet another WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL series.
    Smiles and awe. And a touch of jealousy. This bird will find its grace (and can already fly). Neither will be happening things here. Dammit.

  • Alice Beckcom

    It is interesting behavior that the young hawk decided to walk the pipe rather than fly to her destination. I admire her courage. I felt her challenges and they reminded me of times when I’ve tried so hard to do something and struggled. Many times I came back for another try. I think that she will be back to walk this pipe and do it better each time. I see determination in that last photo!!

    Thank you for the great photos and your narrative to go along with them.

    • I wondered the same thing, Alice. Why did bird try to walk the pipe instead of just flying to its destination? Perhaps they instinctively know what they need the most practice at…

  • Diana

    Ron. I felt a little guilty laughing at “her” attempts remembering trying to walk along low fences as a little girl. Thanks for the photos. Diana

  • Jean Haley

    The look on the Hawk’s face in the last shot. Not happy lol. Thanks Ron!

  • Trudy Brooks

    What fun that was! Hard to get talons to sink into metal for grip. Maybe the pipe was hot on the toes. lol

  • Great storytelling – both imagery and words! I am always amused watching fledges trying to maneuver and find their grace.

    • And they nearly always find that grace, Deb. Interesting that so many humans never do…

      • Laura Culley

        Now THAT’S the truth! I’ve often said they have a grace of being that we never achieve. But there are also those days when that majestic thing just doesn’t work for them 🙂

  • That first step to the last glare…hysterical! Thank you for lifting my mood today, professor. 😀

  • April Olson

    I love the photo with the first big determined step.

  • Barby Anderson

    I had to chuckle at her efforts because we all have had days like that! Great and fun shots Ron! Glad she made your mood better today, she did that for me too!

  • Sarah Hamilton

    Love watching the youngins.

  • Joanne O'Brien

    Thanks for the humorous post. Love the photos – with your words it’s a great little story!!

  • Laura Culley

    You KNOW you’ve got me and what a splendid way to begin my day, wrestling with intermittent electrical issues with my Jeep.
    Odd how these guys/gals can save your day and lift your spirits, isn’t it? When I’m all bummed out and it’s really bad (like my yesterday, too), I spend some time with Mariah and/or Jack, and after a few minutes, it’s all OK again. They realign my soul and it’s all good again! The dogs can do it, too. Right now, Cody (Brittany puppy) is nose–nose with Lilly the Filly and her mother on the south-side fence, greeting each other for the day. Of course, I can’t get a photo of that. The second I open the door, the shot is gone! DARGH!
    And baby birds, especially baby redtails/raptors (in my world) do it effortlessly! Add in the upside-down head thing with just about any raptor and I’m good for a week or more 🙂
    Unlike their accipiter cousins, redtails (and buteos/parabuteos in general) often contemplate the best way to tackle a problem. I’ve seen it time and time again with Mariah and Jack, along with the Cornell hawks and other nest cams. Obviously, sometimes the situation doesn’t allow for contemplation time, but if the time is available, they will carefully ponder their next best option to extricate themselves from whatever trouble they’ve gotten into OR the best, most efficient way to catch dinner.
    I just love the second shot with that determined first step before that pesky gravity thing enters the task! Soon, gravity won’t really pertain to their life.
    I’d agree that this is probably a female, but she looks to be in that annoying tweener range.
    Overall, I think it’s good to have wings to recover from life’s stumbles. HEHEHE!

    • I wondered if you’d think it looked like a female, Laura. Based on what you’ve said in the past I thought her legs looked pretty thick for a male, but what do I know…

      • Laura Culley

        I’m guessing we have a 73.956% chance that we’re talking a female here. But only a DNA test or when she lays eggs (or doesn’t) are the only REAL ways to know for CERTAIN. Weight is a good indicator, but it’s not always accurate with the tweeners and without a scale… Mariah, for example, is a tweener, however, the DNA test and several eggs over the years confirm that she’s a girl–a petite Western female. Sometimes, behavior will give you a good idea, too, but that requires close observation over time. The females are much more serious about life in general, but how can I DEFINE that since it’s a real subjective observation? The males are deadly serious, too, but in a slightly different way. They’re more likely to play a little bit now and then. But the AA battery versus pencil size indicator on the tarsus is pretty accurate.
        I saw an absolutely gorgeous juvie dark morph redtail hawk today. So thankful I was stopped at a traffic light so I had plenty of time to ID and ooogle and ahhhhgle! Sometimes, the and-driving thing gets on my very last nerve, but it wasn’t an issue today!

  • Susan Stone

    Wonderful way to start my day today. Thanks for a good laugh for both of us. (I tend to think females must be more coordinated – I think back to the one squirrel in my yard who couldn’t figure out how to land upside down on my tube bird feeder, and it was clearly male…) I understand completely about having a bird like this make your day: for me, on the days when I see a Roadrunner, I get a smile that I can’t wipe off my face. And we’ve managed to see one both yesterday and the day before. To quote Dick Harlow, VBG!

  • Delightful. We’ve all been there! So much more fun to be the onlooker, isn’t it? Still, hooray for learning curves…

  • Marty K

    My caption for the last shot: “What the hell was that?” I guess she’ll never be a beam specialist. I say we name her Nadia or Mary Lou and see if she does better on vault or the floor ex. 😉

    I definitely see how a series like this is a spirit lifter! 😀

  • Patty Chadwick

    This funny series helps, but doesn’t cure…I’m still struggling…it was an unusually subdued Fourth…even our “neighbors from Hell” were unusually quiet…for them. Although they can always be counted on to cause some kind of disturbance, even their fireworks “celebration ” didn’t last very long. They can usually be counted on to still be “partying” until about or 2:30 or 3:00 AM. By 10: 30, even they were quiet! We live in the middle(literally) of a development loop, surrounded by other houses. The Fourth is usually a nightmare—of loud music, raucous screaming and huge, loud fireworks, coming from several directions right over our house, lasting for several hours, scaring the bejeekus out of our dogs— and worrying us about causing a fire….especially on our roof or in our evergreens. Only one of the four neighbors that usually create this warlike mayhem set them off this year.(guess who)..and not for very long. That was quite a surprise. We were prepared for the usual, endless smoke and noise….

  • Judy Gusick

    How fun! 🙂 Great shots documenting the learning process……….VBG

  • From the very first picture, I had the “Hokey-Pokey” song playing in my head–” You put your right foot in- you take your right foot out, etc.”–an “ear worm” for older folks! This young bird
    definitely looked to be “doing the Hokey-Pokey”……

  • Dick Harlow

    It is amazing how Wildlife, birds, can jump start our day from whatever depressing mood we are in! I understand perfectly!
    All raptors with those long menacing talons have to learn they are not that stable on metal.
    Great post and a fun experience.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Marvelous behavioral series Ron!