Red-Tailed Hawk And Burrowing Owl, Practicing Their One-Legged Stares

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Sometimes I find some of the images that I create to be unintentionally amusing.  That’s the case with today’s photos.  I didn’t foresee anything particularly funny when I took the pictures, it just turned out that way.

I captured these images last week while driving through agricultural country northwest of Tucson.  This little Burrowing Owl seems to be perfectly at ease while standing on one leg.  Its baleful stare depicts either annoyance or curiosity at my presence nearby as I snapped away.

I smiled when I saw this picture.  The owl appears perfectly at ease striking a pose that most of us, ballet dancers and gymnasts excluded, would find extremely difficult to maintain.  The pose looks so — weird — and yet the owl obviously is perfectly comfortable at it.

I came across a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk a few minutes after I photographed the owl.  Young hawks are often far more curious about the humans they encounter than are adults and they often stick around to be photographed long after the adults would have flown.  This youngster plainly was very curious about me.

Notice its pose.  It’s identical, or very nearly so, to the pose that the owl struck.  I found the similarity to be amusing.

How do these birds do this?  Partly, I suspect, it’s a question of weight.  Owls and hawks appear to be much bigger than they are, courtesy of their plumage.  The hawk weighs only a little more than two pounds.  The little owl weighs about 1/3 of a pound. Obviously, their body weight doesn’t put much pressure on their supporting legs as they perch one-legged.  Partly also, it’s a function of the size of their feet in proportion to their body size.  Both the owl and the hawk have disproportionately large feet.  These big feet can not only support a fair amount of weight but they distribute the weight over a large surface area.  That contributes to stability.  The owl has one additional advantage.  Its feet are zygodactylous, meaning that two toes point forward and two point rearward.  That spreads the weight even more uniformly.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1600.

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