Red-shouldered Hawk

January 25, 2012

Last Saturday morning I woke to the sound of high winds. A brief out-and-back to my deck revealed they were also warm—not your typical January day. I went back to bed, initially resolved that a photo trek would be non-productive but I tossed and turned as I second guessed my decision. The sun was just grazing the horizon when I rose a second time and checked out the windows for signs of wildlife activity that would inspire me to hit the road. As expected, the only movement came from cedar crowns and sycamore limbs, trying to hold their own against the warm gusts. Tired, and a little perturbed that Old Man Winter was shirking his duty, yet again, I rationalized that a hike at Shaw Nature Reserve with my ponderous camera gear draped over my shoulder would only exacerbate the dull ache in my lower back. Besides, I’d probably come home empty handed, image wise.

I asked Joyce for her opinion and she reminded me that I often say it is impossible to go to Shaw Nature Reserve without getting at least one good image. I was surprised at her insight, as she was just rising, that time when our thoughts are as languid as a prairie stream. So without further consternation I loaded my gear and headed east into the fully-risen sun, an unusual sight for the start of my shooting day which typically begins when the BBC is still transmitting on our local NPR station.

Upon arrival, I headed into the woods in search of woodpeckers, cardinals, foxes, squirrels and anything else that moved. I had just settled my tripod on some uneven ground near a lake so I could photograph a band of white-throated sparrows when I saw a shadow moving across a nearby field. A closer look revealed a red-shouldered hawk had just lighted on a sign post. I decided to take a chance and try to approach the stocky buteo from the woods by keeping a huge pine tree between us as I closed the distance, a typical hunter’s trick. I couldn’t see the hawk as I walked toward the pine tree but I knew if I made it to the tree I would be close enough for a shot. When I finally made it to the pine I peaked around its edge and sure enough, the mature red-shoulder was still sitting on the post!

I began settling my tripod at the edge of the field, still in the cover of the pine tree, and in a final lateral movement I opened a clear line of sight from my lens to the perching hawk. I knew I was in trouble the moment I stepped to the right of the concealing pine boughs. Just as I acquired focus on the nervous hawk it launched from the sign post. But instead of flying away, giving me boring shot of its tail feathers, it angled toward me! Shocked at my good luck I was paralyzed for a microsecond but my instincts finally kicked in and I captured a flight image of the hawk as it swept downward toward its prey—a tiny vole. I didn’t take too much time to pat myself on the back for getting the flight shot because the hawk was still in front of me on the ground, sorting out its catch in the grass. In an icing-on-the-cake moment I made a second image just before the red-shouldered beauty swallowed its breakfast in one gulp.

BR8I3971 Click on image to enlarge to full size.

If you’ve ever had trouble seeing the “red shoulders” on this species, it is well documented in the flight image I’ve posted here. I’ve always enjoyed red-shouldered hawks because they are not only beautiful, they are filled with personality and feed on a wide variety of prey. I’ve even watched them go in my pond for frogs and salamanders, awkwardly surfacing with soaked plumage and muddy talons. I never grow tired of the red-shouldered hawk’s incessant squawking which clearly distinguishes it from other raptors. I can’t describe the sound too well with words but you can listen to the call here. Maybe after you read this you’ll be watching—and listening— for red-shouldered hawks around your own stomping grounds. I guarantee you’ll be fascinated when you find one! Oh, and the next time you start to wonder about the validity of one of your “second guesses” you might want to reread this post….smile.

Thanks for Looking!


Red-shouldered Hawk in Flight; Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/640 @ f/5.6; ISO 400; Aperture Priority; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Gimbal Head; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

18 comments on “Red-shouldered Hawk”

  1. fantastic shot! Wonderful and exciting storytelling, too 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing the pics of the red-shouldered hawk, Danny. We have many different kind of hawks and I often have trouble identifying them. Seeing the close up of their red shoulders will help me to identify this species.

    • Hi Jo Ann — Watch for the robin-colored chest on mature red shoulders. The Cooper’s hawk is similar in color on the chest but a tiny bird by comparison. Unfortunately, the chest on immature birds is white with chevrons which can be confusing. The call really helps. Take care.


  3. It’s amazing that in an age without cameras, the red-shoulders were observed and documented, and yet, now we have trouble seeing them 🙂 Superb post as usual. Looking forward to meeting you in Forest Park one Saturday morning (Saturday mornings will be my time to play hooky from nanny duty)…once the newborn settles down. Meanwhile, keep clicking…you take the trouble and we get the results! And long may Joyce come up with such morning suggestions….!

    • Hi Deepa — Looking forward to seeing you for brunch on a Saturday morning after I get a nice Forest Park image.

  4. Thanks for the great picture of the red Tailed Hawk and more importantly the “Kick in the butt” to get out and take more pictures.


  5. Hi Danny,

    Really appreciate your entry today–and the story that went along with it. I call Jan. “ordinary times,” a period when I invariably hit a writing slump. You writing about your bad back and hesitation to go afield was helpful. It seems those of us called upon to produce creatively suffer from periods of feeling uninspired, “flattened out.”

    When this happens, I invariably receive a boost from a reader (one just sent an old picture of a mule to me) or an entry like yours. Authenticity paired with great talent–you have both. Keep up the great work!

    On a bookish note, I came across a novel I think you might like. It’s called “Ten Graves Full.” It’s a bit too macabre for me and I’m not sure it would win awards, but you might find it entertaining. The plot is convoluted but the characters are complex and interesting.

    I can leave it in my mailbox if you’d like to have it. We are heading south on Sun. for a couple of weeks, and our mail will be stopped so perhaps Joyce could pick it up at her leisure. Happy weekend and happy shooting, Chris

    • Hi Chris — Writing is easy for me as I’m just writing a journal so I don’t have to be too creative. Also, the creatures of the woods never stop eating and going about their daily business that is so fascinating to us humans. Now, if I were writing short stories or novels I feel I would be in a non-stop slump! I would love to try your book out. Joyce will pick it up at your house. Have you seen “Silver Linings Playbook”? Wow….what a movie!!

      Thanks again for you thoughtful comments about my weekly posts and remember, we will all suffer if you feel uninspired for very long. I bet your trip gives you some inspiration!


  6. Thank’ Danny for sharing that really cool shot , of that Red Tail Hawk. Its neat to see one of our Missouri raptors at work, keeping the Vole population down. I too, have one of those beautiful birds of prey, that frequent my back yard. Its neat to watch them.

    Thank’ again
    Art T.

  7. Two great shots!! A good reminder to keep going out.

    • Thanks Lyle! FB, Blogs and the internet serve as a cyber support system to keep us all clicking and writing week after week. Have a great weekend.

  8. I love to watch the Hawks here at the park soaring on the winds and diving after prey at the right opportunity.. I have been wanting to make a trek to the nature reserve and your photo makes me want to do that even more now. Another great shot! Good Job as usual.

  9. Those two pictures are beautiful! Thanks for sharing your story..I love the stories as much as the pictures. Keep up the good work. Carl and Jane

    On Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 6:14 AM, Nature Frames

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