Photo of the Week – September 16, 2016

NOTE: This post originally misidentified this hawk as a juvenile ferruginous hawk, but after some helpful comments from readers and confirmation from a couple other experts, I have edited the post to make it clear that it is, indeed, a red-tailed hawk. 

A juvenile ferruginous hawk

A juvenile red-tailed hawk in a prairie dog town.  Garden County, Nebraska.

As I’ve said many times, I am not a wildlife photographer.  I stalk insects and flowers, and try to take a few scenic photos, but I don’t have the equipment, time, or patience to be a real wildlife photographer.  Thus, I don’t have a lot of photos of birds, deer, or other wildlife.  The few photos I do have of those wildlife species come from opportunities I don’t really deserve, but am lucky enough to get anyway.  For example, I posted about an evening photographing prairie dogs back in July when, for no good reason, a prairie dog and her pups let me get within about 15 feet of them with my camera.

Last month, on a trip to the Nebraska Sandhills, I got another inexplicable chance to photograph wildlife without really trying.  I didn’t set up a photo blind weeks beforehand, crawl into it in pitch darkness, and spend fruitless day after fruitless day waiting for a red-tailed hawk to land in the right place at the right time.  Nope.  Instead, I saw a hawk and drove over to get a closer look.

I drove slowly, watching for signs of agitation so I could stop before it flew off.  There was no agitation.  The hawk just stared at me as I drove within 25 feet or so, BACKED UP in a half circle to get a better angle, drove a little closer, GOT OUT OF THE VEHICLE, crouched down next to the vehicle, and took some photos.  It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did.  As a result, here are some photos I took of a red-tailed hawk this summer…

Ferruginous hawk

The red-tailed hawk staring at me as I knelt on the ground with my camera and took its picture from 15 feet away.

The hawk didn’t appear to be injured in any way, and I saw it fly and land in the spot where I photographed it.  The only justification I can come up with for its behavior is that it was a young bird, but even that doesn’t really make sense.  Even a young bird should be afraid of a noisy vehicle driving toward it and a funny looking bipedal creature emerging from the vehicle holding some kind of black object.  I hope the hawk changed its attitude toward strangers before meeting a coyote, for example, that wasn’t quite as innocuous as a surprised and grateful photographer.


10 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – September 16, 2016

  1. Hawk may have been suffering poison or infection … sure hope not. Great photos. Many thanks.

    From: The Prairie Ecologist To: Sent: Friday, September 16, 2016 1:07 PM Subject: [New post] Photo of the Week – September 16, 2016 #yiv8800985842 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8800985842 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8800985842 a.yiv8800985842primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8800985842 a.yiv8800985842primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8800985842 a.yiv8800985842primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8800985842 a.yiv8800985842primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8800985842 | Chris Helzer posted: “As I’ve said many times, I am not a wildlife photographer.  I stalk insects and flowers, and try to take a few scenic photos, but I don’t have the equipment, time, or patience to be a real wildlife photographer.  Thus, I don’t have a lot of photos of ” | |

  2. I think even professional wildlife photographers would tell you there’s a whole lot of luck involved in getting the best photos. Even the best plans won’t guaranty the moose will walk past your camera. :)

  3. This rather clearly appears to be an immature red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, not a ferruginous hawk (B.regalis). I’m a raptor biologist and master falconer, having studied, bred, and hunted with red-tails across the continent. I’ve studied ferrugies in the West. Not a good match here (bill size and feather markings around head and shoulders point strongly to an immture red-tail).

  4. Just why this hawk was so tame, allowing such a close-up photograph is a good question. Here is an answer.

    No, the bird was not sick or injurred or poisoned. When those happen, the bird simply goes to roost and becomes very inactive. This bird was out on the hunt, and that’s why is was so tame.

    At this time of the year, the bird’s parents have stopped providing any food, and have even driven her away from her nest and summer hunting territory. She’s now on her own, having to sight, fly at, and capture her own food. All of those successful hunting skills must be learned by fledged hawks in their first summer. Fail to do so, and they starve (the fate of up to 80% or more).

    This bird was hungry, and almost surely had spotted some rodent, which it approached. The nearby human, with the camera, was not regarded or avoided. Hunger overcame any innate wariness.

    Wonderful photos. Glad they could be posted. (But the chances for this particular hawk surviving her migration to the south for the winter are probably minimal. She’s in trouble already, sadly. I’ve trapped and banded and used for falconry a good number of red-tails in similar predicaments — with the ones used for falconry saved from a hunger-induced death.)

    [As it happens, I’m in charge of restoring 3000 acres of native tallgrass prairie at NASA’s Plum Brook Station here in N. Ohio. I’m also a prairie biologist, and thrill and marvel at the wonderful prairie postings on this site. My best wishes to prairie people everywhere.]

  5. As a new photographer on the Gulf coast, one of the things I’ve found (and had confirmed by skilled bird photographers) is that an auto makes a great bird blind. I have no idea why that should be, but some of my best photos were taken either from the car, or just outside it.

    In any event, your hawk’s a delight. I’m glad to have found your blog, and look forward to exploring the archives.

  6. Pingback: CORRECTION to Photo of the Week | The Prairie Ecologist


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