Red-tailed Hawk With Prey
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Recently, I came across a Red-tailed Hawk as it dined on prey, apparently a rat. After a few moments the hawk decided that it needed more privacy than I was giving it, so it took flight, leaving with its prey for a more secluded perch. I was fortunate to capture the sequence of the hawk dining, then departing.
The hawk is an unmistakable “southwestern” Red Tail, complete with a brown head, outer wings, and back, a lightly streaked breast, and a prominent belly band. Red-tailed Hawks live all over North America: there are distinct regional differences in plumage, and this bird displays the plumage manifested by many local residents (there is another southwestern variant with much paler breast and abdominal plumage). Likely, this bird is a year-round resident of our area or, if it made a winter migration, it came from somewhere near by.
Red-tailed Hawks primarily are perch and pounce hunters. Although they may occasionally spot prey and go after it while soaring, their preferred hunting technique is to sit on a favorite perch and scan the terrain nearby for potential prey. They have extraordinary vision. It is at least twice as acute as humans’ vision. But, more importantly, to the hawks, their eyes are extremely sensitive to motion, several times more sensitive than are our eyes. When a Red Tail perches on a high spot, it is often looking for the slightest motion on the ground, sometimes at distances hundreds of yards (meters) away. When it detects motion, the hawk launches and flies on a bee line towards its target, seizing it with its talons.
Images like these are somewhat brutal, I know, but they depict a fact of life. Hawks have evolved as predators. They cannot survive without killing. In doing so these birds perform a service. Rodents, like the rat that the hawk had captured, have evolved to breed prolifically. It’s their way of maintaining their species. Without predators like this hawk we’d soon be inundated with rats.
In this next image, I’ve captured the Red Tail at the moment of its liftoff.
It’s a pretty dramatic image and it also depicts many of the field marks of a Red-tailed Hawk. Notice the bird’s brick red tail and also notice the dark line of plumage at the leading edge of the underside of each of the hawk’s wings. These marks positively identify the bird; no other hawk has either the wing markings or the red tail.
This last image is particularly dynamic. As the hawk took off it flew directly above me and I captured it just as it did so. There’s a bit of motion blur in this image but I don’t really mind.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 250, f6.3 @ 1/1600.