Staring Contest

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

I came across this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk yesterday while I was driving through agricultural country.  The bird was ensconced in a dead cottonwood tree, surveilling its realm.  As I got out of the car to photograph it I immediately caught its attention and it stared at me, balefully.

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It certainly did its level best to look intimidating.  It never fully took its eyes off me for the next few minutes as I photographed it.  It also held tight to its perch, refusing to fly.  That’s slightly unusual behavior for these hawks.  More often or not one will be airborne before I can get out of the car to take its picture.

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But, I’ve learned from experience that juvenile hawks are often more likely to stand their ground while being photographed.  I don’t know whether its naiveté or curiosity about the guy with the camera, but these youngsters often stick around while their older relations head for the hills.

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I very much like this bird, not only for its feistiness, but also because of its appearance.  Typically, juvenile Red Tails born in this area have extremely pale — often snow white — abdomens streaked with dark feathers.  This bird, by contrast, has a definitely rusty colored abdomen, a bit unusual for a local bird.  It also has an unusually dark upper breast, again, not exactly typical of the local youngsters.  It’s remotely possible that this bird is an early arriving migrant from somewhere else, although it’s very early in the year for migratory Red Tails to be arriving here.

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One other reason why I like this bird is because it provides an excellent comparison with that Swainson’s Hawk that I posted yesterday.  Notice the very pale base of this bird’s beak.  That’s typical of a Red Tail but definitely not typical of a Swainson’s Hawk.


Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 320, “M” setting, f7.1 @ 1/1250.

2 responses to “Staring Contest”

  1. Liesl Kii says :

    As a juvenile, he might not have been able to gauge how big you were – he might have been considering you as a possible tasty morsel!

    • stevenkessel says :

      I’ve often observed the same phenomenon about young hawks: they seem to be genuinely curious the first few times they see a human. They frequently allow people to approach them quite closely and that makes them easy to photograph. They quickly learn to become wary. After a couple of weeks they become like their elders and fly when you attempt to approach them. Probably, the next time I see this bird — if there is a next time — it will fly before I get out of the car. Such is life and growing up!

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