Rough-legged Hawk In A Delightful Preening Pose

This is a test of the Feathered Photography Broadcasting System. More about that at the end of this post.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this Rough-legged Hawk in November six years ago near the marina on Antelope Island. It was among the most cooperative roughies I’ve ever encountered because it allowed a close approach as it was preening for an extended period of time. I had good light, a low angle on the bird, an acceptable perch, I like the complementary background and man, did it ever give me some interesting poses.

Here the bird was accomplishing a specific task as it drew the length of each individual tail feather through its bill. During everyday wear and tear the barbs in the flight feathers become separated from each other when microscopic hooks on the barbules are pulled apart leaving gaps in the feather vane that make the feather less aerodynamically efficient. Pulling the feather through the bill effectively “re-hooks” the hooks and repairs the damage. This result can be accomplished again and again over time, just like the component parts of Velcro can be repeatedly pulled apart and then reattached. Here the hawk has already worked over the upper tail feathers but still has the bottom four to go. The difference between them is obvious.

I’ve never posted this image before (though long ago I did post a similar photo) because I’m not fond of “squarish” compositions and this is all of the room I have on the left. But last night I dinked around with it for a while and came up with this version that isn’t quite square (it’s 900 x 797 pixels) so it works a little better for me. I wanted to salvage the photo because I’m so very fond of the pose and behavior. Typically they’d have either their eyelid or membrane closed during this process so I was pleasantly surprised to get a good look at the eye and I even have a catch light.

And that makes me happy.


Note: Yesterday afternoon I had a glitch of unknown origin in Feathered Photography. After working just fine for most of the day yesterday’s post wouldn’t load for me, for Mia or for some of my viewers even though others could load it just fine and older posts also loaded without a problem. Some of us could only get this error message: “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute”. Several hours later things returned to normal and even Bluehost (my web hosting service) couldn’t figure out the source of the problem.

So I’m a little bit nervous that it may happen again today with this post. If it does you obviously won’t be able to notify me until after the fact but please let me know when everything’s working again. I’d also be interested in knowing if you had problems yesterday afternoon. I’ll be involved with appointments for most of the morning (of course, since it’s our first day of good light in weeks and I can’t go shooting) so I may not be able to respond immediately.

That concludes this test of the Feathered Photography Broadcasting System…



37 comments to Rough-legged Hawk In A Delightful Preening Pose

  • I like the overall tone to this great capture, and no problems getting to the link.

  • Particular thanks for pointing out the “uncorrected” remaining tail feathers. That is an important part of the narrative and an observation which I would have missed. I was concentrating on the “forest” while not seeing the “trees.”

  • Roger Burnard

    Just another example of an old adage… “Put any camera in the hands of a ‘master,’ and you will get beautiful images.”

  • Ed MacKerrow

    Wow, incredible photo and super educational Ron! I did not know that about the feathers needing to be “reset” like that. It is great how you can see the differences in the feathers. The pose of this rough-legged hawk is simply beautiful . It almost looks like a sage grouse like shape to it at first. Thanks for education!

  • spectacular … one of your best!!! Ron, I’ve missed seeing your blog in my daily emails … so glad I found you again via WordPress!!!!! You’re obviously thriving, which is awesome!!!

    all the best,


    • Thanks very much, Lois. If you used to get the emails you must have subscribed. I never “unsubscribed” you so I don’t know why you don’t get them. I always enjoy having you in the “neighborhood”!

  • I love this photo, too. And I will take Laura’s suggestion about the book! I know what you mean about square format. It’s what kept me time and again from joining Instagram (before they changed their photo specs). I just couldn’t do the square with wildlife. This, however, is gorgeous and it works. It’s made me rethink the square overall.

  • This photo and the great explanation is very popular here at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Museum!

  • Dick Harlow

    Nope, had no problem yesterday. I have gotten that same message on occasion and worry about it, but not so much.
    This is a beautiful shot and have to feel that the Roughie was having too much enjoyment preening he wasn’t worried about you. Maybe he had seen you before and figured you were not a threat. As you know birds survival depends on well conditioned flight feathers as well as its body feather and looking at the ecstasy in his eyes you can understand you were just part of the scenery!
    Absolutely love the shot!

  • Laura Culley

    Ron, I didn’t have any trouble yesterday afternoon, however, everything on my computer went haywire last night. I’m STILL trying to sort everything out, but since I’m not a computer geek, it might take weeks. OR the computer might magically heal itself like my phone. About 10 minutes after I bought a new one because the old one’s battery refused to charge, it almost immediately started working again and is still working. DARGH! Computers are EVIL!!
    But back to this outstanding image of the roughie. As I’ve mentioned before, I could watch “my” birds (who are no more mine than the air I breathe) preen for hours and hours. That goes for bathing and flying, and oh just everything they do. When they’re preening, they get into a Zen kind of space but are still aware of their surroundings. I’ve tried to rehook those barbules, and while I can ultimately make it happen, well, mostly, I’m nowhere near as efficient with my fingers as they are with their beaks! I’m only human!
    For those of you who want to know a whole bunch more neat things about feathers, let me highly recommend the book, “Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle,” by Thor Hanson. I just loved that book. It’s written in and easy-to-understand format while delivering highly technical information and it’s a delight to read (and learn) about the outstanding adaptation of feathers. All I can say is if this reincarnation thing is a thing, I want feathers in the next life–long, lovely raptor feathers with wings and a lovely tail for mostly majestic flight, too. I feel the need to specify since roaches have wings and flight, too and I do NOT want to go there!

  • Zaphir Shamma

    I did not know this fact about the wings and preening…very interesting. Perfect photo to illustrate the technique and the before/after results.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Beautiful shot of a bird I don’t often get to see! What a wonderful pose! Thanks, Ron.

  • Bernadette

    Interesting to read about the feathers and then wonderful to see it in the photo . Remarkable, thank you!

  • Jorge H. Oliveira

    Hi Ron,
    A short note only to tell you that I had no problems visiting your site yesterday. And I went there several times to see the comments like I usually do.
    I want to thank you for the hard work you had putting the settings on all those photos. Much appreciated.

    • Delighted to hear that you find my image techs useful, Jorge. You’re right, it’s quite a bit of extra work to include them, especially in a long post like the one yesterday, so it’s always nice to know that at least some folks appreciate them.

  • Miriam

    Hi Ron, I’m looking at your blog posts early every morning in New York City and did not have any problems yesterday or today. There were problems in the past, but you always acknowledged them later on – for which I’m grateful. This is a wonderful photo of the RL hawk. Thank you, as always.

  • Diana

    Ron. I did not know that preening “rehooks” as you describe. Thought it was for “oiling” feathers. Thanks for the info. The photo show the hawks determination and diligence in maintaining its feathers. Sorry about the anthropological comment.

  • Judy Gusick

    That is a cool/interesting shot – really can get some contortions going! Glad you pointed out the before/after preening of feathers – looks like they really needed it! 🙂 I had no issues yesterday BUT don’t recall the last time I was out here either………. HATE things like that! 🙁

    • Judy, I’ve often thought that a photo like this one should be used in zoology texts as an illustration of feather anatomy and the effectiveness of preening because it shows both the grooming behavior and the “before and after” so well.

  • Kathy G

    What a terrific photo…this pose made me look twice immediately to see what it was! Interesting information on their preening habits…some of which I did not know. I’ve developed a great fondness for this bird…we have so many in this area of WI this year. I am able to see them frequently and for that I am very grateful. Again, a terrific capture!

  • Marty K

    Fabulous shot of such an interesting behavior. I didn’t notice any problems yesterday, which is odd because if there’s a computer glitch, it usually will find me. Maybe it was gremlins. 😉

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