Barn Owl Landing Series

This is the only time I’ve ever been able to capture a series of photos of a Barn Owl during the landing process.

Photography conditions were marginal for this bird at Farmington Bay that day last October because the light was harsh and the bird was sidelit so I didn’t get a catch light but I was still pleased to capture the action. I’ve posted one of these photos previously but I thought it might be interesting to see the three image series.


1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 320, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I’d been photographing this owl on the sign when it took off after prey and I hoped it might return to the same perch so I prefocused on the sign and waited to see if wings would fill my viewfinder. They did and I captured a dynamic landing pose I really like (largely because of those hyper-extended legs and impressive talons) so I was quite disappointed that the owl wasn’t as sharp as I prefer and the underwing whites are a little bright (though they aren’t blown). I decided to include it here anyway because I think it’s important to the context of this short series.



1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 320, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The moment of touchdown. This is the image I posted previously.

I like to compare the positions of the feet relative to the post in these first two images, knowing that with my camera’s burst rate exactly 1/10 if a second has elapsed between the two shots.



1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 320, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Then the owl began to settle in on the sign post.

I try to never let the flight and landing processes of birds become ho-hum for me. That’s a danger because we see it so often but there’s so much concentration, skill, coordination and athleticism involved that it really is a marvel.

And for me when the bird is an owl of any species it’s something just a little extra-special.





38 comments to Barn Owl Landing Series

  • Diane Bricmont

    Late to the party, Ron, but love this series! Talk about sticking the landing!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Incredibly beautiful!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these beautiful birds!!!

  • Zaphir Shamma

    The legs are so far out in front of the body…what a hoot! Great series Ron 🙂

  • Joanne OBrien

    Wonderful photos!!

  • Marty K

    Ho hum? It is for to laugh!

    These are spectacular! Wow! Soooo stinkin’ cool! I love the wing and talon positions as well as the way the coverts are raised in the last shot (flaps up for landing!). 🙂

  • I’ll join the chorus of people who love these barn owl shots! The beauty of its landing and the way it positions its feet/talons really struck me, so I was interested to read in the comments thread about the gentleness with which an owl may use those talons. I love the idea that something that looks so lethal can also be gentle and precise.

  • Ho-hum? Queue hysterical laughter. Looking at that first image, nailing a landing seems like an impossible feat.
    Love, love, love that your dedicated eye (and camera) capture the magic for us.
    And too many owls would be barely enough (as I have said before).

  • Simply beautiful! What a magnificent creature! Very nice work on nailing the landing sequence.

    Question on technique. I know you often shoot with your lens resting on your “noodle”. Do you turn your image stabilization off during those times? There are recommendations to deactivate IS when using a tripod.

    Thank you for sharing more of your wonderful work, Ron!

    • Thank you, Wally.

      I’m familiar with those recommendations but I’ve always left IS on, tripod or not. These were taken from my pickup using my noodle and IS was left on.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, the athleticism of this Barn Owl is just amazing. I agree with Dick’s comment about those talons. As good as a knife for cutting food!!

    Thank you, for the great photos and narrative as well.

    BTW, our hummers are still here!

  • Laura Culley

    Yeah, just WOW, again! But no ho-hum here! I just love these slices of time and marvel at how much can happen in 1/10th of a second.
    Then, there’s the barn owl issue. WOW! What intricate and elegant beauty in those feathers. Wish I had one here to take care of the mice in my garage. I KNOW they could handle THAT problem in a heartbeat. You’re right on target with the concentration, skill, coordination and athleticism involved in that landing, but take it one step further with all that’s involved in catching oftentimes moving prey! My mind boggles with all the mathematical computations involved in that. Granted, I’m NOT a math person, so I’m pretty easily boggled there, but it makes my head spin like a top!
    Sorry I’ve been silent–maybe that’s a good thing, but since the massive 10-plus-hour Microsoft Update, I’ve been struggling to get things to work right. I hate it when they FIX things!
    And now I’ve got another massive distraction! I put a no-kill mouse trap in the garage, thinking I’d release a live mouse for the Evil Princess Kestrel, Skye. This morning, there are two in there. I hadn’t thought past the catching part of this idea, so now I’ve to prepare for her to react with Ho-Hum, nope, don’t want to catch a mouse! That’s followed by how do I avoid releasing live mice into the house? DARGH! Pray for me! LOL!

    • Ha, good luck with your rodent dilemma. Laura! Maybe a mouse scurrying around in the house wouldn’t be such a bad thing – perhaps Skye couldn’t resist going after it if it kept appearing in view. 🙂

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful series Ron!


  • Jerry Ellison

    I’ll echo the WOW! Landings are so much harder to get than take offs and you nailed em! A rare sequence with a beautiful Owl…doesn’t get much better that that.

  • Susan Stone

    Wonderful series! I especially like the feet and the look of concentration in the first shot. I also find the change in body position during landing, which seems to be going against gravity, very intriguing. Once again, photography provides details that one wouldn’t see when just watching a bird land.

    • “photography provides details that one wouldn’t see when just watching a bird land.”

      I couldn’t agree more, Susan. That’s one of the primary reasons I enjoy bird photography so much!

  • April Olson

    Lovely. I am always amazed you capture such wonderful series. I am not fast enough and mostly have “birds on a stick”.

    • “I am not fast enough”

      April, you have to make special effort to get shots like this – anticipating behavior, appropriate camera settings for them, leaving enough room in the frame etc, etc. Knowing you I’m confident you could do it if you try. But keep in mind, even with planning and quick reflexes successes can be few and far between, especially at first. Don’t get discouraged!

    • Diane Bricmont

      At least you have birds on a stick. I frequently just have “perches”!

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful sequence, Ron! 🙂 Those talons are impressive – makes me shudder to think of those “needles” grabbing my arm! The Barn Owls are strange looking birds. We don’t have them here which I’m sure you know. The action goes so fast some times that still photo’s are the only way to go.

    • “makes me shudder to think of those “needles” grabbing my arm”

      I’ve always assumed those talons were dangerous too, Judy – so I was surprised when the Barn Owl I cut off the wire a few years ago was very gentle with its talons. It didn’t try to “foot” me and when it wrapped its talons around my finger it was extremely gentle about it.

      And BTW, that owl was rescued in SW Mt. It’s extremely rare to find one there. Bill West, manager of Red Rock Lakes NWR was very surprised to see what species it was.

  • John Pierce


    A camera geek question for you. I have been learning how to shoot birds in flight for about 18 mos now and am trying to decide if I need a faster (fps) camera. I shoot a nikon D800 that goes about 5 fps but am thinking about the D500 that goes about 10 fps. I would obviously like to get images as good as yours. You did not include the camera used on these shots but I have seen where you use a Canon 7D Mark iI which shoots 10 fps. Are these images one right after another? If so, then I will probably need the 10 fps to get similar shots. Thanks for your thoughts and your every day efforts with your blog.

    • John, I inadvertently left my camera model out of my image techs. Yes, these were taken with the Mark II.

      Personally, I simply could not live with only 5 fps. A entire second is an eternity when it comes to birds because they’re so fast. If I were you I’d make the change in a heartbeat!

      And yes, these images were sequential with no skips. If you’re not on a mobile device you can pass your cursor over the images and the file numbers will appear.

  • LS Clemens

    Always live your photos, but your commentary is like the icing on the cake

  • Dick Harlow

    Beautiful shots Ron! Love the sequence. Can’t get over those talons!

  • Debbie

    Wow,wow, and wow. Your photos of this beautiful Barn Owl are perfect. You made my day. Thanks Ron.