A Couple Of Hawks Separated By Species And Time

There’s no common theme here other than both birds being hawks so I guess this post is a mini-potpourri but I always think it’s interesting to compare raptor species.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk with prey almost exactly three years ago (9/18/14) near Farmington Bay WMA. The prey is a vole and the bird is nervous because there’s a paved road with traffic very close by. It very nearly flew off a couple of times but in the end, despite its already bulging crop, it consumed the vole in an interesting manner that was new to me at the time.

In a very slick maneuver it held the hide down with one foot and neatly skinned the entire rodent by pulling it out of its skin and then swallowed meat and bones in one gulp. I’ll spare you the gory photos but this still young bird had already developed surgical skills that could put some surgeons to shame. It then swallowed the hide and flew off immediately.

The splotchy seed heads in the background are probably annoying to most viewers but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed this setting, probably just because it’s so different.



1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 800, 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 found this dark morph Swainson’s Hawk last month in Box Elder County. The photo was taken only minutes after sunrise in very soft, warm light so the background has significant pink tones. It’s subtle but I think there’s something interesting about this image too.

There was a slight breeze blowing that would occasionally lift up its scapulars and reveal the much lighter colors beneath. In this light it really got my attention every time those near-whites flashed at me – almost like a blinking electric sign. It made me think of the intricate way feathers are often colored and patterned. Feathers are truly one of the evolutionary marvels of nature.


I’m publishing later than usual and if this post seems a bit disjointed I have an excuse (valid or not I’m using it). After a scorching hot summer that extended into the middle of September our fall weather has finally arrived. It rained during the night and right now it’s 15° colder than “normal”, heavily overcast and snow in the mountains is forecast. In that kind of light I knew I wouldn’t be photographing birds this morning so I slept in to almost 5 AM!

Decadent of me I know but that extra hour (or more) of sleep felt so good…




25 comments to A Couple Of Hawks Separated By Species And Time

  • Gorgeous hawk photos Ron!
    Kudos to you for consistently getting up sooooo early! 😉

  • Joanne OBrien

    Great shots and an interesting post once again! And congrats on being able to “sleep in”!

  • Love the birds, love the backgrounds. Nature is the very best of artists, and I love the galleries she displays her work in too.
    Our currawongs can skin other birds with surgical precision. And are faster than surgeons too.
    You slept in till nearly five? Luxury.
    My partner is a spring out of bed at noon person, but I have become an early riser. A very early riser.

  • Laura Culley

    Yeah, first we have a redtail, and a greedy, beautiful redtail, too. I LIKE greedy redtails–helps with that survival thing. I also love that you got to see them turn little critters inside out! That’s an awesome ability, and even with a rabbit leg, they do it skillfully. They can also gut their bigger prey so fast and efficiently that I think they’d make a surgeon blush! Of course, they’re not concerned with keeping the patient alive and skip a bunch of steps that surgeons must take. HEHEHE!
    Oh they eat the fur because it’s still part of their meal and they wouldn’t want to waste anything. Waste not, want not! And they never know where their next meal is coming from. Thus, eat it all, including the casting material and skin.
    As for the background, I love that, too. It’s part of their world, thus, part of the photo! To me, it adds a gorgeous depth.
    Love the Swainson’s, too (you knew I would). And same with the pinks in this shot!

  • Dick Harlow

    Such an interesting post. First image, the hawks head and chest is what caught my initial attention, not the seed heads. Always look at the images first before I read your post. Didn’t really think about the seed heads till you mentioned them. I’ve seen hawks skin a small mammal and have always wondered why they didn’t try to tear it in half so they could just swallow the halves.
    Second image I have to admit the back feathers is what caught my eye first. Then I started to compare the heads of both species, the body and feather configurations before I read your post.
    Great shots, thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Dick. One of the things I like about these two photos together is being able to compare the relative lengths of wing and tail feathers of the two species – that length is one of the field marks for telling them apart.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Jeeez! 5:00! I used to get up then every morning to do chores before getting ready for school…dreamed about sleeping in until 7:00…got up at 8:00 this morning…now, that is decadent!!! …am finally over (I hope!) having bad dreams that the barn hadn’t been cleaned and animals hadn’t been fed or watered and were near death because of my neglect…had them for years! Also that I hadn’t been to class, we were going to have a test, I had no clue what on, wasn’t even sure in what room…or what subject….I WAS A TEACHER and stilll had those dreams!
    You must have felt like I did when a no-school snow day was announced…delicious!!!

    • Patty Chadwick

      I like the spotty backgroundcas it echos the spots on the bird…

    • Yup, I used to fantasize about sleeping in while I was still teaching. In those days I always had my alarm set for 5:30. Now that I CAN sleep in I’m nearly always up at 4 or even earlier. Makes no sense…

    • Marty K

      I still have teacher anxiety dreams (along with all the other fun anxiety dream themes). 0.o

    • Laura Culley

      Oh how well I know that “critter neglect” thing! After FINALLY getting the bookcases built and the rest of the books sorted yesterday, my hands were toast so I took a nap. I woke with that rush of anxiety after I’d ignored an alarm for 5:00 p.m. and here it was 5:55 p.m., SUNSET time. YIKES! Mariah and Jack will starve! Yeah, no. They’re both fat and sassy! AND I got their dinner out to them by 6:00! Amazing how fast you can gut and separate a quail when necessary 😉
      I also slept in this morning and Zoe (alarm clock) didn’t mind at all. I got up at 6 a.m. so still caught the sunrise.
      And Ron, I know why you’re up at 4!! Factoring in driving time to photograph in that early morning light…uh DUH!

      • Marty, In the summer when the sun comes up very early I sometimes have to get up at about 3 in order to get everything done and be there at sunrise. That kicks my butt. Those are nap days for sure!

  • Susan K

    I love the pattern of the seed heads in the background.

  • Susan Stone

    At the end of the post I’m just sitting here shaking my head. I can’t fathom staying in bed until 5AM being a slacker. Both shots are interesting. Despite the annoyingness of the seed head background in the first shot, it has finally dawned on me that such a background is what makes the 3D effect possible. And that bird has fabulous britches. In the second shot what I really like are the feet. I’m amazed that the bird can balance on that branch.

  • Marty K

    5 am? Slacker! 😉 These are both great shots in which I find the background to be as intriguing as the subject. The dappled appearance in the first shot echoes the patterns in the red tail’s feathers and that wonderful pinky-orangey light perfectly sets off the lighter colors of the scapulars.

  • Judy Gusick

    Gorgeous birds and good commentary on the surgical precision the juvenile red tail was using on the vole………… Wonder why it bothered skinning it if it was going to eat the hide anyway? Feathers and their coloring are miraculous things:) Still raining here and snowing on Rogers Pass tho not sticking. Puddles forming/enlarging on the creek so there is hope for both fires and water supplies.

    • “Wonder why it bothered skinning it if it was going to eat the hide anyway?”

      I wondered exactly that, Judy. My presumption is that the entire vole was a little too big to be swallowed whole but in two large pieces it wasn’t a problem.