Red-tailed Hawk Takeoff And Flight (six image series)

And the challenge of negotiating branches during the process.


1/3200, 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

Yesterday morning we found a pair of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks hanging around together in Box Elder County. They were very close to a busy road and just a little bit nervous. The two hawks were pretty tight with each other so I had to wonder if they were hatch year siblings. When the first one took off this bird eventually followed and I was curious about how it was going to negotiate all those branches and twigs.



1/4000, 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

One strategy of course was to close its nictitating membranes several times during the takeoff process to help protect its eyes. That’s generally not a good thing for photography but it’s good for the hawk in these situations so I have no problem with it.



1/3200, 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

It was a pretty tight fit amongst all those twigs. Most of them were behind the bird but there’s a few in front of the right wing primaries and a couple in front of the end of the tail so the bird was threading the needle.



1/4000, 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

At this point the hawk began to break out into the open and was really scooping some air with its wings.



1/5000, 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

It began a slight turn to the right…



1/3200, 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

and soon allowed me my favorite shot of the series. I like the elegant simplicity of this photo with the left wing perfectly vertical, the legs hanging down as a visual counterbalance and the mottled sky background. But for me the near-perfect head turn providing excellent eye contact is the crowning glory of the image. Without it the photo would have been significantly diminished.

It would have been nice if the rosy-tinged clouds in the background were a little better defined but I’ll take it anyway.



  • For this series I left my teleconverter attached to my lens which meant I clipped several shots I otherwise might not have.
  • I very rarely add any saturation to my photos during processing but for these images I chose to add a slight amount (+7 on the slider in Photoshop).



35 comments to Red-tailed Hawk Takeoff And Flight (six image series)

  • Pat Henson

    Stunning! Thanks for these photos!

  • Laura Culley

    OK, I’m REAL late with this one, but you KNOW you’ve got me with a redtail. We are SO lucky to have them in this part of the world.
    The last shot is, of course, spectacular. You’ve captured that incredible intensity of focus in the eye, too. Gads, I love redtails!
    That’s all…you’re already familiar with the ridiculously redundant string of Super Uber Superlatives!

  • Joanne OBrien

    They are all great photos but then you get to that Fantastic Last Shot!! Bravo! So perfect.

  • Marty K

    Breathtaking! And you said you didn’t get anything good yesterday. 😉

    • Thanks, Marty. Actually what I said was that I “had a very disappointing morning” and I did. I had lots of frustrations with vehicles showing up out of nowhere and scaring off my birds and only two birds cooperated in all those hours I was there – this red-tail and a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk but my gear malfunctioned on that one. That’s a bad morning in my book! 🙂

      • Marty K

        I hope these shots made up for the other stuff. They are magnificent! What a gorgeous bird!

        • Not quite but they sure helped. The 90 minute drive back home is always so depressing when I get completely skunked so these shots made the trip much more pleasant than it would have been otherwise.

  • Melanie Wells

    Your photos showing the feathers catching the air and lifting the hawk are stunning. Thank you! Simply amazing in their beauty.

  • I have been scrolling up and down. Marvelling.
    Brilliant series.
    Taking off was difficult, but landing would have had its own issues too.
    Love the last, the the two preceding it are very special too.

  • April Olson

    Nice series, it is also nice to see the remnants of the last meal on the beak and toes. I like seeing a hatch year look successful. As you know life is tough out there.

    • It sure is, April! I’m sure neither one of us will soon forget those young red-tails this past summer that had such a difficult time when their nest blew down.

      • April Olson

        I still think of them. I hope the last is faring well. It had the full attention of good parents. Every time I saw the trio of young they always had bulging crops.

  • Frank Sheets

    Hi Ron, Great series and you nailed the last one. Love the pose, perfect angle on the head and apparent eye contact. Love the extended wings and great light in the clouds and sharp. It doesn’t get much better than this! Love the post and thank you!

  • Susan Stone

    Wonderful series. I really like the power that shows in the shot where the bird is breaking out into the open. But my favorite is the last one. It captures so much detail so nicely. Red-tails have been a common sight for me both here and when I lived in the east, but these photos remind me that it is an uncommonly beautiful bird.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Beautiful series!!! It’s amzing how these big birds can negotiate through such a tangle of branches…their wing soan is so large!!!

  • Judy Gusick

    Great series, Ron! 🙂 The nictitating membranes can be a pain but are part of REAL life and serve a VERY important purpose. The last photo is the prize at the end for all the photos…..:) Yes, “diet” is a “quality of life” issue for me!

  • wonderful series, the one where it is “breaking out into the open” is the best!

  • Charlotte Norton

    An awesome series Ron! What talent!


  • Mitch

    Mornin’–Now that I’ve suppressed the urge to gag over the thought of choking down a carrot stick with my coffee, I can get to the keyboard to continue. 🙂
    That’s a nice heads-up on the nictitating membrane, Ron. I’ve shot many raptors taking off from perches on a riverbank, and inevitably there are countless small limbs in the frame. It always seems like there are an “unfair” percentage of these shots in which that membrane behavior “ruined” an image, but given your perspective on its useage as a self-protective mechanism, that “flaw” is easier to swallow. Unlike a carrot stick with my favorite cup of wake-up brew…Mitch

    • Thanks for several smiles in that comment, Mitch.

      Yes, we’ve all been burned by that membrane multiple times. And it happens more often with some species, magpies for instance, at least in part because they apparently flash their membranes as a form of communication.

  • Dick Harlow

    For awhile I thought I was only going to be able to catch you on facebook.

    You know I’ve been giving the chocolate chip variety a lot of thought lately. I’ve been told I should give up cookies, bread, pasta, etc. Maybe if I was in my 30’s and a professional athlete I might consider it. But, life is too short to begin with, giving up those pleasures of life at my age is NOT going to happen!! I’m sorry, and although I like a carrot stick once in awhile, I can’t imagine having a carrot stick and coffee early in the AM when I’m out looking for birds. There is just something cozy and comfortable about a donut and coffee or a sandwich and cookies.

  • Dick Harlow

    Wonderful shots Ron.
    I bet that is how some birds break up part of their primaries before they are supposed to molt.