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A couple of weekends ago, Louisa and I made the nearly 100-mile trek from our home in Tucson to Whitewater Draw in Arizona’s southeastern corner. During part of the year Whitewater Draw is a marshland with shallow ponds, and is home to a large variety of birds. Unfortunately, we picked the annual early summer drought to visit the place and the ponds were nearly bone dry. Many of the birds had moved on to more hospitable locations. However, the day was not without some opportunities. On our way tp Whitewater Draw we drove down a long dirt road. Up ahead of us we spotted four large birds sitting on fence posts. My first thought was that these were Turkey Vultures. But, as we approached the birds, their shapes said no, these were buteos.
They were Red-tailed Hawks and it didn’t take me long to realize that these were fledgling birds, probably only a few days out of their nest.
Young Red Tails grow from hatchlings to fledglings at an amazing pace. Five weeks or so after they hatch and they are ready to make their maiden flights. They have attained full or very nearly full adult size. Their plumage differs from adult birds in that they lack the adults’ red tails and their breasts are generally far more boldly marked than those of adults. Fledglings have pale eyes whereas adult Red Tails have dark brown eyes.
Athough these youngsters are fully capable of flight, they are not yet equipped to fend for themselves. They remain dependent on their parents to be fed, for several weeks after they fledge. Fledgling Red Tails are naive and tentative in their behavior. They don’t really know whether an approaching automobile is benign or trouble. They seem to be curious about human observers. At this stage of their lives they are vulnerable to predation — from Coyotes and, possibly Bobcats — during daylight hours, and from Great Horned Owls at night.
One of the fledglings obligingly posed for me. Lighting was quite difficult because I could not maneuver into a position where the sun was behind me. So, I photographed this bird in strong side lighting. The images turned out well, all things considered.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 500, f5.6 @ 1/2000.