Red-tailed Hawk — Here’s Looking At You, Kid

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Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I’ve become somewhat jaded with images of Red-tailed Hawks perching on utility poles.  There was a time when I first took up wildlife photography as a serious pastime that I’d avidly photograph every perched Red Tail that I saw.  Only after I’d accumulated several hundred of these images did I realize that they had a repetitive quality that made them somewhat boring.  Nowadays, I generally drive past the perched hawks, sometimes pausing only to wave hello before continuing on my way.

But, once in a while, I see a perched bird in either an interesting pose or doing something interesting. Such was the case yesterday morning. I was out taking photographs with a friend when we saw a Red Tail on a utility pole.  For reasons known only to the hawk, it hadn’t perched on top of the pole, where one would usually expect to see these birds, but on a small metal bolt that protruded from the pole a couple of feet beneath the pole’s top.  It was an interesting pose and so, we stopped to photograph it.  I captured an image of the hawk looking off into the distance and I found it to be fairly pleasing.

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However, I’m not sure that I would have posted this image but for what happened next.  The hawk turned its head and stared at me.  For a brief few seconds we made eye contact as I observed the hawk and it observed me with very obvious interest.  I got the distinct impression that the bird was closely scrutinizing me and sizing me up as a potential threat.  The Red Tail flew shortly after we made eye contact.  It decided that it had had enough of the likes of me.

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This image confirms what I know about these hawks.  These are not “just” birds.  They are highly intelligent creatures who react to their environment every bit as much as we react to ours.  They see us, they draw conclusions from what they see, and they act on those conclusions.  We may not be able to fathom exactly what’s going on in a hawk’s mind when it looks at us, but rest assured of one thing: this is a thinking creature and not some feathered automaton.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1250.

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