Ferruginous Hawk (Or Hawks?)

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

Ferruginous Hawks are seasonal residents of southeastern Arizona, showing up each autumn around the first of November and departing in late February or early March.  These birds used to live here year round, but extermination of their principal breeding season prey — Black-tailed Prairie Dogs — sent them to the northern plains during the spring and summer months where they continue to find this prey and are able to breed.

It is our largest buteo, weighing about 4-5 pounds.  A Ferruginous Hawk is at least half again as large as a Red-tailed Hawk.  It has a five-foot wingspan and is striking in its appearance.  Seeing one of these huge birds can be literally breath-taking.  A Ferruginous Hawk resembles an eagle more than a hawk and some ornithologists have advocated that the species be classified as eagles.

Most Ferruginous Hawks have predominately white breasts, abdomens, and tails.  Their heads are a silvery gray and their backs and outer wings are a deep rusty red (from which comes the name “Ferruginous”).  They have enormous, oversize mouths rimmed in yellow.  There is also a dark “morph” of this species that is a deep chocolate brown in color.

I love to photograph these birds and I search for them avidly every fall and winter.  Last weekend I took a drive in agricultural country near Tucson, looking for Ferruginous Hawks.  I found one almost immediately, perching on a utility pole adjacent to a farm road along which I’d seen these birds in years past.  The one that I spotted is a magnificent bird with characteristic plumage.


The hawk posed cooperatively for me and I was delighted to take its picture.


I drove the same road about two hours later and I was about five miles from where I’d seen the hawk.  There, I encountered what might have been a second Ferruginous Hawk.


My first reaction was to rejoice in that I’d encountered two Ferruginous Hawks in one day.  On reflection, however, I’m not so sure.  The differences in appearance that show up in the photos may, in fact, be caused by changing lighting conditions and the angle of sunlight on the bird(s).  I can say with assurance that the second bird is a Ferruginous Hawk.  I cannot say with assurance that it isn’t the same bird as the one in the first two images.  Whatever, the hawk — or hawks — are gorgeous and I’m utterly thrilled with my images.


Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting.  The first two images shot at ISO 640, f9 @ 1/1000.  The third image shot at ISO 500,  f9 @ 1/1250.  The fourth image shot at ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1600.

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