Male American Kestrel Working Over A Tail Feather

This is a pose I almost never get from a kestrel.


1/800, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this beautiful male kestrel at Farmington Bay way back in yesteryear, on the morning of New Years Day Eve 2008. I’ve never posted the image before because the bird is sidelit and I don’t like the composition options I’m restricted to. I was very close to the bird so I was shooting vertically while he was perched vertically but when he unexpectedly began to groom his tail he became too tight at the frame edges for pleasing composition. In hindsight I should have simply rotated my camera but in the time that would take I was afraid I’d miss that special shot so I just kept firing away.

But I’ve now determined that I like the pose and behavior so much I can live with the sidelight (especially since I do have a catch light in the eye) but I simply cannot live with this composition.



So I “cheated” and added canvas to the left side of the frame. I try very hard to resist doing this kind of manipulation of my images but this time Photoshop seduced me. I think including more of the perch with its wind-blown snow on the side has its charm but overall I prefer this second version. Another option would have been to keep the vertical composition (and more of the snowy perch) by cropping a little tighter on the right and adding canvas on the left. I might try that down the road but overall I tend to prefer horizontal compositions. Opinions may vary…

I have another image of this bird in this pose where he’s working over one of those distinctive black and white outer tail feathers (they can’t be seen here). I think I’d have liked that photo even more than this one but there’s even less light on his face and none at all in his eye. Disappointing…


Note:  On those very rare occasions when I do any significant cloning to my images, including adding canvas, I always disclose what I’ve done. To me it seems misleading and dishonest not to, especially in nature photography. That said I do sometimes clone out dust spots or a few dark spots on water or even enhance an existing catch light (I never add catch lights) without disclosing.  





Short-eared Owl With An Unusual Eye I Can’t Explain

Ok folks, I need some help with this one.


1/1600, f/6.3, 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

I photographed this very young juvenile Short-eared Owl three months ago in Box Elder County, Utah. I have quite a few nice photos of it and I posted a couple of them here several months ago. Last night I stumbled across those images again and as I was reviewing them I noticed something that I’d missed earlier.

Take a close look at the eyes of this bird. In this image they appear normal to me except that the left pupil might be ever so slightly larger and in my experience there’s absolutely nothing unusual about that.



1/2000, f/6.3, 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

But just seconds later the left eye had apparently moved within the skull while the right eye had not so the eyes appear to be looking in different directions. It almost looks like strabismus (crossed eyes) in humans but that should be impossible in owls for the following reasons:

  • owls don’t have eyeballs as such, instead their eyes are elongated tubes
  • those tube-shaped eyes are held rigidly in place by bony structures in the skull called sclerotic rings
  • they compensate for this restriction by their ability to turn their heads 270° right or left and almost upside down

But they cannot move their eyes within their skulls – they can only look straight ahead.

So what accounts for what I captured here? Am I misinterpreting what I think I’m seeing? Is my understanding about the functioning of owl eyes incorrect? Is there possibly some physical anomaly in this bird that would allow it to move that eye within its skull? I don’t know so I’m stumped and curious as hell.

This isn’t a phenomenon captured in just one photo. I have several images that show the left eye in each position.

So if anyone out there can scratch my curiosity itch it would be appreciated. Thanks in advance for any thoughts on the subject.


PS – For those who might like to see a diagrammatic representation of the anatomy of an owl’s eye and a detailed explanation of how their eyes work you can visit this link to The Owl Pages.

Late Addendum: With major help from my readers in the comments below I believe we may have solved the mystery – the nictitating membrane is likely the major cause of what I was seeing. When I originally read those comments on my phone while I was out shooting this morning I was skeptical that it was caused by the membrane but after I arrived home I did a tight crop on the owl’s head of the high res file (image below) and in that version the membrane is clearly visible over the inside corner of the eye. I believe that when combined with the left pupil being dilated more than the other one it gave the illusion that the eyes were looking in slightly different directions. Now I don’t believe they were.

However, there’s apparently still something going on with that left eye. I have other images that show the membrane in the same position (partially closed). Since the membrane normally closes and opens very fast I shouldn’t have multiple back to back images that show the same thing. To complicate things further, in some of my photos I can’t see the membrane at all which suggests to me that the bird kept it partially closed much of the time (unusual) but was capable of completely opening it at other times.

So perhaps there is a slight injury to the eye.