Photographing a Hawk in Nature with Prey


Sharp-shinned Hawk

Not everyday you photograph a hawk with its prey in a wild setting. Today, I am at a State Park in a meadow on a high hill by the Niagara River.


I mentioned before that hawks are a bit bold when they are eating dinner and are more likely to stick with it if the photographer is not bothering them.



I saw this hawk feasting when I parked my Jeep and I was hoping he just caught that starling. Seeing a shadow from above catching his eye and shielding his dinner, what is he looking at?


Why none other than Canada Geese. No problem from these grass eaters.


To my surprise, he just started devouring his meal, meaning he was likely to stay with it while I photographed. I was maybe 150 feet away when I first started taking his photo (two above, and all with a 400mm lens), and about 15 feet away, crouched down in the photos in this post. How did I get so close?


One is by remembering that this is a wild animal and I have to respect that. At first, I did not approach directly as this is a sign of aggression.


Going through the hawk’s mind is any number of things concerning me. He might be thinking I want his prey, or that I want to make him my dinner. He might think I am defending my turf, or invading his territory. If this is his thoughts he would likely flee or go on the offense. You can see above that he was well aware of me before I moved in closer and knelt down.


Now what is he looking at? Those blackbirds are really a pain in the necks to hawks.


Below a Red-tailed is tailed. More photos of a Red-tailed hawk in flight coming up.


How I got close and kept the hawk from feeling threatened was by walking in a side to side motion, never looking directly at him. I pointed the camera away from him and made it look like I was not interested in what he was doing.


I walk slowly. If he was feeling nervous because of me, I would have backed off. Looking all around, he was more concerned that another animal would take his meal than he was that I would. Nice of him to let me into his world. After I was finished taking photos, I slowly, but carefully walked backwards until I thought I could turn and walk back to my Jeep. He was busy consuming his starling and did not even notice me leaving.

In your own wildlife photography, keep an eye on the animal’s behavior. You don’t want him sacrificing his hard-earned meal just for you to get a photo. Getting his fill and leaving a big feather strewn mess behind, off he went to the large spruce trees. I am sure he was quite contented and pleased with himself.


I am off all week on bird watching tours, so you should be seeing migrating birds coming up here on GWGT. I am going to explore Lake Ontario and the nearby land areas in eastern Niagara and western Orleans County with the birders this weekend, so hopefully I will see birds I never see. They promised migrating hawks!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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57 Responses to Photographing a Hawk in Nature with Prey

  1. bittster says:

    Beautiful plumage on the hawk… and I love the photo of the geese! That’s good information on the approach, I usually try to get closer just out of curiosity but like you I don’t want to disturb dinner.

  2. shoe1000 says:

    Beautiful pictures. Would you mind if I used one of them if credit it to you !

  3. Cool Captures – thanks so much for sharing! Happy Thursday:)

  4. alesiablogs says:

    You are sneaky getting these shots!!!!! But a good sneak!

  5. That’s great. Have fun, my dear Donna!!! Looking forward to those migrating birds! 🙂

  6. Terrific shots Donna! The closest I’ve come to one with dinner is through my window which doesn’t make for great photography. I often see the crows chasing the hawks and have noticed an increase in the crow and black bird population over the past few years in my garden. I love having the birds of prey around. They are so fascinating to watch.

  7. Phil Lanoue says:

    An absolutely outstanding series on this magnificent hawk with its kill! Well done.

  8. Nick Hunter says:

    What a wonderful opportunity, and you made the most of it. Great series of photos and job well done. I was fascinated by the story because I’ve never known a bird of prey to be that tolerant of a human intruder on foot, regardless of the stalking method.

    • Thanks, Nick. I learned this technique on Galen Leeds site, but also from some friends that are top hunters. I think Galen’s link to that post is under my Photography tab. He does a great job getting near wildlife, but he does it with the utmost care for the animal.

  9. lulu says:

    Don’t you love it when you stumble into something that provides such great fodder for your camera and your writing? Great job.

  10. quarksire says:

    very kewl shotz 🙂 _ ……….. Q

  11. Wow, great photos as usual. What a stunning bird this hawk was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one up that close. Thanks for sharing the photos and narrative. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    • Thank you. Natalie. Getting close is not always possible, but when a hawk is eating, it will sometimes keep eating as I approach. I learned this one year when a Red-tailed hawk was eating one of my “pet” doves, and I left my Akita out to scare it off, and the hawk charged the dog, who in turn ran back in the house. The hawk then kept shredding the dove.

  12. cindy knoke says:

    These are awesome!

  13. Great photos to illustrate your tips! Hopefully good weather this weekend.

  14. Victor Ho says:

    How wonderful! It’s really special when all your experience and knowledge come together to get you into the perfect position. Yeah, that was special. Great shots!

  15. mariekeates says:

    Beautiful photos and a lot of patience too.

  16. It’s hard not to think the hawk is cruel – yet I eat meat. I specially like the geese flying picture.

  17. Debra says:

    What a treat! Thank you for the great story and photos. Usually the only way I know a hawk has been nearby is seeing the ring of feathers left behind. =)

  18. A.M.B. says:

    I’m so impressed you got that close! These are amazing pictures. It’s rare to see this level of detail. Hawks are beautiful creatures. I’m looking forward to seeing what you capture on your upcoming bird watching tours. Have a great weekend!

  19. acuriousgal says:

    So awesome, Donna. I love your tactics. If I come across a bird I also try to act disinterested, makes me laugh at the thought of both of us walking sideways

  20. Amazing! I’ve seen hawks catching prey here, but never gotten anywhere near as close. Plus I need to get a better camera and tripod. Did you get all these captures with a handheld? Wonderful! I hope you have a great time on your birding tours!

    • Thank you, Beth. I almost always hand hold for wildlife. If they take flight, I want to be ready to follow the action. It is hard to pan with the birds, but I have gotten better at it over the years.

  21. Fantastic shots of this hawk and his prey. – Sadly the Sharp Shinned Hawk that was hanging around our bird feeder was found dead about a week ago. I’m guessing some neighbors who have chickens shot it. We brought it home and gave it a proper burial underneath our bird feeder.

  22. Lyle Krahn says:

    What a fantastic series of shots. I love the colour and and the detail. I can sense the cautiousness of the hawk as it looks around. It’s impressive that you got so close without disturbing it. Enjoy your time shooting.

    • Thank you, Lyle. The hawk was looking in every direction, so it was nervous I am sure. I am surprised hawks will stay with a kill like that. I have done it in my own yard and that is how I learned that they do.

  23. Pat says:

    Great photo series of the hungry hawk and the hapless starling.

  24. debsgarden says:

    What a great series of photos! We are fortunate to have nesting hawks on our property. They are fascinating to watch!

    • Having a nesting hawk is such a treat. Your wooded location is wonderful for them. That is a disadvantage of having a city property that I can’t make a home for them. Many come through winter though for the bird feeder and hunt from my neighbors 90 foot tall Spruce or the huge Mulberry behind my garage.

  25. Annette says:

    Excellent images and well done for spotting it! I should really invest in a good 400mm lens as this makes shooting birds/wildlife so much easier. Also I think it’s not bad looking at cheaper brands like Sigma. I’m a bit disappointed with one of my expensive Canon lenses. We have lots of birds of prey here too, very lucky.

    • When I was with the birders yesterday, some had a scope they could add an attachment to affix their DSLR. I was wondering how the images came out and am going to contact one of the birders to ask about that. It is a much cheaper alternative and the scopes see much farther out into the area than does my lens. Nikon makes a new one now for pre-order.

  26. Incredible post Donna. I learned quite a bit and will keep these points in mind. I look forward to upcoming posts from your birdwatching!

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