Red Tailed Hawk Puts on a Show


1/1250 f11 ISO 5600 340mm

For the last few days, I have been out and about again, off in Canada and checking out local wildlife in our area.

The weather is fooling a lot of birds into thinking Spring has arrived. This has me a bit concerned since warmer weather does not always coincide with food supplies for the early migrants. The Red tailed Hawk in these photos was likely a bird that wintered in our area, but it is still a bit early for the flush of newly reared rodents to appear.


1/1250 f11 ISO 5600 340mm

Their diet includes small mammals, birds and reptiles, which varies with location and season. Mammals such as voles, rats, rabbits, and even squirrels are their major prey items, but they eat birds as well. This particular hawk looks like it pounced on prey, but nothing was there to capture. He came to ground twice while I was watching.


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Unfortunately, he was a bit close for my lens. I clipped the wings on a few really good shots, like the one below. I should have backed off on the focal length.


1/1250 f11 ISO 8000 600mm

Still debating how to crop them for closeup shots. I can really do a serious crop and have just part of the wings with the head. What do you think? Dancing or close crop?


1/1250 f11 ISO 8000 600mm

Hawks and Eagles are some of my favorite birds to photograph, but over on Nature and Wildlife Pics, I have the Snowy Owls we saw up in Canada. You might want to click over there for a bird you see less often. I have a lot of new critters to show from my trip across the border. So much more wildlife can be found a bit further north.


1/1250 f11 ISO 8000 600mm

In WNY, we just have to look a bit more, and mostly find the same critters. Earlier in the day of this hawk shoot, I was photographing  Pileated and Red Bellied Woodpeckers. They are also nice birds to see.


1/1250 f11 ISO 8000 600mm

There is always much more action with hawks and eagles, a lot more of a challenge to photograph too. I promised a friend I would mention camera settings for this series, and this is why the images are captioned. I have a long lens, so the shutter speed must be up for a heavy lens to be hand-held, but it is also for the flight shots. Since there is a dark bird against a stormy gray sky, I also had exposure compensation set to between 0.7 and 2.0 depending on where the hawk was at the time. This allows the dark shadowing on the hawk to become better exposed while sacrificing the nondescript sky.


1/1250 f11 ISO 6400 340mm

One of North America’s most widespread hawk, the Red tailed Hawk is common here, but they are very skittish birds.


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You can just roll down the window in the car and they see that movement and vacate the area. There are 16 sub-species of Red tailed Hawks in North America, something that surprised me.


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Because of forest loss, Red tailed Hawks have largely replaced Red shouldered Hawks in many parts of eastern North America. Rarely do I see the latter.

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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41 Responses to Red Tailed Hawk Puts on a Show

  1. These photos should be in a table top book!

  2. You pictures are simply phenomenal and I’m in awe of your talent as a photographer.
    Thank you so much for sharing them with us.

    I had a red-tailed hawk try to fly through my patio door about a week ago!
    I have seven of my budgies housed in my living room and they have free-flight in the living room and dining room during the day. The living room has double patio doors along one wall as does the dining room. The hawk first tried to come in through the living room doors, then re-grouped and tried for the dining room. He then went up on the trellis in the backyard, getting ready for a third try. Needless to day, the budgies (and I) were quite startled by his persistence.
    I finally had to go outside to ensure he left the area. Thank goodness the glass doors were closed rather than just the screens. If it had been the screens he would have broken through and it would have been a disaster!

    • Thank you for the nice words. My gosh is that an amazing story. So glad your budgies were OK and not traumatized. Had the hawk got in, it would have been quite a mess. I have a pet Cockatoo, but he would have given the hawk a challenge. The cockatoo was once in my Akita’s mouth and when I told the dog to spit him out, the bird landed on his back, rolled over, swore at the dog, then chased him out of the room, flapping after him all the way down the stairs. I was surprised the dog ran away. That bird can be mean too.

  3. swo8 says:

    Those are some amazing photos, Donna. You seemed to have got most of the wing spread and all.

  4. I love the shot of the hawk taking off. Impressive.

  5. These are the best photos of red-tailed hawks I’ve ever seen. Gosh, you should really try to sell them to a publication. Have you ever had a photo exhibit open to the public in your community? You really should–your photography is so inspiring, Donna.

    • Thank you very much, Beth. I never had a photo exhibit, but have had my art in a number of gallery showings. I don’t print my photos either. I just enjoy sharing them, along with helpful tips for others to benefit.

  6. David says:

    I love the hawk in flight photo with wings, tail, and talons all spread open; adds action and drama to the photo. With regard to “Dancing or close crop?” I think close crop would work best for small presentation like the internet while dancing would look good as a large print. I also think a 16:9 ratio are similar might be good for samll presentation. Regardless, I like all the different crop choices you made with these photos.

    • I thought the close crop was better for the internet too, but the photo story is more about the strange little dance the hawk was making for no apparent reason. I suppose I could have expanded on this story in text in addition to the images. I just veered off into some hawk info for the non birding, non photography readers. This post is better on my Nature blog, but I do a lot of photography tips here on GWGT which are posts that get searched a lot. On the other blog generally, the readers are predominantly photographers and the photography talk is of a different nature. The Wood Duck post is another suited for there too. Oddly, GWGT gets searched for photography quite a bit, so I like to keep posts flowing.

  7. Denzil says:

    Super photos as always Donna. You’ve captured the fierceness in his eyes wonderfully. And its focus on its prey in the field. I love hawks, but have never seen a red-tailed one.

  8. aussiebirder says:

    Beautiful crisp shots Donna, it great getting the different poses. Most raptors have super eyesight , some like our Wedgetail Eagle have telescopic eyes,and 10x our vision, so the slightest movement they can see for over a km away. I can be half a km away and they will sight me and move away. Wow, 16 subspecies is an amazing number, that would be a difficult set to collect.

    • Thanks Ashley. I always am amazed by their sight. I do wonder why they leave at such a great distance. It must be ingrained in them being used for target practice in country locations. While not allowed, it still happens. A kid in Texas just shot a nesting eagle at its tree and kept shooting it until it died. So sad. He only got a citation for trespassing on private land.

  9. Thanks for the great pictures of these majestic birds. I worked on a golf course and we had a red tailed hawk that lived on the course. It was awesome to see him flying around and when he was on the hunt it was a sight to see.

  10. Your action shots of this majestic bird are wonderful. I wing cut off here and there is standard operating procedure when these birds suddenly fly in for the kill.

    • Sadly, they don’t always give us ample warning. I see the tail raised and the droppings, then I know it’s take off time. This hawk had nothing to kill though. Just decided to give me a show. I wish I had something to offer him for being such a good sport.

  11. What a stunning bird and what beautiful photos. It looks so good in its habitat.

  12. Oh, how I admire your bird photography, Donna. Stunning! I posted some of my poor efforts today. If you get a chance to look at them, maybe you would let me know if I correctly ID’d the hawk. Is it your rarely seen red shouldered hawk? With my less than sharp image, that may not be easy for you to say. Mentioning your camera settings doesn’t help me — I haven’t a clue. I guess I need to take some lessons — wish you were here! P. x

    • Thank you, Pam. Someday I hope to visit. Maybe we can go out and shoot. I know where you live, there is an abundance of wildlife. I keep hoping for a black bear one day. I remember living in PA seeing them, just never had the camera along.

  13. Outstanding action shots! We see red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks in our garden regularly. If they are very focused on their hunting activity I can sneak up closer to get shots but other times if I just open the door to walk outside they fly off.

  14. Denise says:

    Amazing photographs Donna. Such a beautiful bird.

  15. Brian Comeau says:

    Wow wow wow! Beautiful pictures! I wouldn’t change anything I see here. Amazing again!

  16. David Pollack says:

    Well it looks like he (she?) did manage to capture quite a nice coprinus comatus (shaggy mane). Now all it needs is a few eggs. Yum!

  17. birdlady612 says:

    Amazing photos. 🙋🐦

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