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.
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…
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.