Red-Tailed Hawk Circles Me Below


Why they are called Red-tailed. It looks like a red/orange beacon in the sky when the sun shines through. They are amazing birds, and usually fly very high. This one is in circle flight above my head in these photos. That usually means it is after something in the area below. I must have been standing very near its quarry and did not know it. You can see in the last photo it is looking down at me. I just happen to be too big a meal.



This got me wondering how prey sees that bright, glowing tail circling above. If you saw my post on the Sharp-shinned feeding on a starling, you saw that hawk looking skyward at every passing ground shadow. Chances are, it was looking for a predator much bigger than itself. Funny, but it did not think I was a predator since I got very, very close to it.


Big hawks like the Red-tailed do not swoop down from high altitudes to get the prey, but hunt from trees. From way up, they are surveying the area to see if it looks promising. Hunting from high in a tree was what this one was doing before it left the tree after seeing me. I suspect it had its sights on something tasty right before I appeared. Anyway…what was I starting to say…

Oh, that bright tail…


I read where a Red-tailed can spot a mouse at 100 feet, but can the mouse see it? Everyone knows raptors such as hawks have marvelous vision, but mice don’t, seeing maybe four feet in front of themselves. Image below from the September 18th post. I found these hawks are a bit more difficult to photograph and thought you might like to see its eye close up.


But I bet the mice see the menacing shadow thrown by a raptor as it grows bigger around them. The other day I saw a Red-tailed flying right in front of me carrying a mouse. Being a cloudy day, that mouse missed a cue unfortunately.

That would have been a great photo had I not been driving at the time. In fact, the bird almost was roadkill flying so low and close. I doubt I could see a mouse at 100 feet. The one the hawk gripped I saw perfectly, tiny tail swinging in the wind.


I have been seeing hawks quite a bit lately and even saw a Red-shouldered hawk also while driving. Spring is breeding time for them and a time of migration, so maybe I will get lucky and be able to photograph many more.


I have to admit, the question of what prey sees of raptors still is bugging me. This hawk is a generalist on what it chooses to dine, so I do know other birds with sharp vision can see it coming (except that poor starling in my last hawk post), but what about most mammal prey? Makes me wonder if the odds are stacked against them.


Rabbits always seem to find out they are being pursued at the last second. Those big ears might hear well, and the big, cute eyes on the sides of their head see movement easily, but they get snatched quite often. At least they are speedy though.

So my deduction is that sight is the domain of the raptors and the other senses help the prey. Any thoughts? I have to ask my birding friends this question. What advantage does the prey have?

I really don’t like being eyed up as dinner. I wonder if his mouse was hiding behind me?


Next, a short post on Monday night, A Bird I Did Not See in Twenty Years. And the funny story why I did. OK maybe not funny for the bird, but it was funny to the guy telling me why I saw one.


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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28 Responses to Red-Tailed Hawk Circles Me Below

  1. I especially like the hawk portrait!

  2. Jenni says:

    Absolutely spectacular shots and fascinating post. Thank you for sharing this. Jenni

  3. Pat says:

    Interesting post about a beautiful raptor. I’m always thrilled to see hawks circling overhead or perched in the branches, although I don’t want to witness a strike at any of the birds at my feeder,

  4. Merilee says:

    You got some great shots! I always love seeing your photos..

  5. Again wonderful photos and information on the prey and predators! I loved the close-up, too, of the eye!

  6. Wow, what amazing shots!

  7. alesiablogs says:

    It is a good thing you weren’t his dinner! I have rabbit just like that little fella in my back yard all the time. I am not sure why he/she keeps going through. I do have a creek below me so that might have something to do with it. But it is just so silly to see him going through without a care in the world.

  8. Debra says:

    Brava for capturing the tail color. I think one of the most powerful advantages prey creatures have is behavior — congregating in groups & communicating warnings to each other. Those kinds of strategies improve survival chances and quality of life too. Someone reading this is probably going to think I am anthropomorphizing. Don’t care. haha I believe animals do have emotional lives.

  9. Stunning captures. πŸ˜€

  10. Phil Lanoue says:

    Terrific! Love seeing the RT Hawks!

  11. Annette says:

    Amazing images, Donna, especially the close up. Great job!

  12. It must have been very comforting knowing you are too big for him!
    Exceptional shots, my dear Donna!!! πŸ™‚

  13. You are definitely the queen of the great bird photos. Great post and I loved the bunny too! Blessings, Natalie πŸ™‚

  14. Nature is fierce and fascinating — as are your photos, Donna. I’d feel sorry for the rabbits, but I just …can’t. πŸ™‚

  15. Excellent photos of this impressive bird! I see them all the time in my garden. In fact the other day I watched a chipmunk freeze frame when a red-tailed landed in the tree just above where he was in a rock pile. It was interesting that even after the hawk flew away (without the chipmunk since I think the hawk had his eyes set on something else) the chipmunk stayed frozen for a good five minutes. To your questions about prey, they don’t usually look up to the sky. Perhaps the prey see movement above them but the hawks fly high so wouldn’t really cast shadows. I observe the hawks perched in trees for long periods of time while songbirds fly around the garden. I usually see the hawks go for the rodents or the bigger birds such as mourning dove.

  16. Brilliant pictures! We have a resident red tail hawk in our back pasture, truly impressive to watch. The Chickens run for a hiding place whenever he/she is on the hunt!

  17. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Brilliant pictures! We have a resident red tail hawk in our back pasture, truly impressive to watch. The Chickens run for a hiding place whenever he/she is on the hunt!

  18. Another great post, Donna. Hate to always be so stinkin’ literary, but there’s something about your posts that seems to summon up for me some great piece of writing. This post conjured up a great poem by Robinson Jeffers called, “Hurt Hawks.” It’s just a couple of stanzas about a man who finds an injured red-tail and keeps it alive for awhile before finally putting it out of its misery. A bit too long to quote in full (though I’m tempted). Here’s my favorite line: “I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk . . .”

    Check it out if you get a chance — it’s a must read for us hawk-lovers. Thanks again for some beautiful images.

    • Oh, heck, it’s probably easier if I just include the poem here. Hope you like it:

      Hurt Hawks
      By Robinson Jeffers


      The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,

      The wing trails like a banner in defeat,

      No more to use the sky forever but live with famine

      And pain a few days: cat nor coyote

      Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.

      He stands under the oak-bush and waits

      The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom

      And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.

      He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.

      The curs of the day come and torment him

      At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,

      The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.

      The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those

      That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.

      You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;

      Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;

      Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.


      I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail

      Had nothing left but unable misery

      From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

      We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,

      He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,

      Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old

      Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,

      Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what

      Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising

      Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

      Robinson Jeffers, “Hurt Hawks” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt. Copyright Β© 1938 by Robinson Jeffers, renewed 1966 and Β© Jeffers Literary Properties. With the permission of Stanford University Press,

      Source: The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 1988)

  19. My Heartsong says:

    I find that these hawks are shy, often taking off before I can get close enough to get a shot. Lovely images.

  20. acuriousgal says:

    Oh that bunny is so cute, Donna. Just have to say I have not been receiving your posts in my Reader…I’ve heard others complaining about this too. I deleted my subscriptions because I was just getting too many emails….your is one site I do not want to miss, though. My Mother-in-law took a pic of a Hawk that had landed on a sign on her deck. The sign read: No Hunting. Well, I guess that Hawk just doesn’t pay attention to signs. I should get a copy of that pic, so funny. Hope you’re having a god dayπŸ™‹ ~Barb

  21. All I can say is: awesome!

  22. such wonderful shots of this beautiful hawk! thank you, Donna.

  23. I suspect that the advantage of the prey is that there are so many of them, so the loss of individuals don’t endanger their survival as a species. Great shots, it’s always exciting to see a hawk.

  24. A.M.B. says:

    These photos are beautiful! It’s an amazing bird. We had two red-tailed hawks circling us at the bus stop last week. My kids were delighted–they didn’t know enough about hawk behavior to feel like breakfast! πŸ˜‰

  25. lucindalines says:

    There was a hawk in our yard the other night, but it was circling a little bird. I was amazed that the bird didn’t get away faster, but I did see the bird kept flying higher than the hawk. It was interesting.

  26. I adore hawks and see them perched high in the trees hunting. Stunning captures Donna. I know that when we have few rabbits, the hawks, owls, fox and other predators have been about.

  27. I think that there is a balance between the abilities of the predator and the defenses of the prey, or we would see species disappear.

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