It hasn’t been easy with this bird. When it comes to photographing the redtail hawk on or near our Cochise County acreage, the Buteo Jamaicensis that looks awesome when the shutter is clicked seems to change considerably (for the worse) by the time the picture is enlarged on the computer screen. I don’t how they do it. Maybe our particular redtails dislike having their images captured and deliberately hex the digital images or something.
Seems like as good an explanation (or excuse) as any.
The turkey vultures were simple. Those big death-eaters are far less wary of some dude pointing a clicky thing at them.
NOTE: If you Google these critters, you’ll see that lots of written accounts list them as red-tailed or red tailed hawks, not redtail hawk as I do. But, just FYI, there’s a reason for bucking the system. Having grown up in Montana, and also having lived in 8 of the 11 western states since then, I’ve never yet heard anyone speak the name as anything but redtail.
One local female redtail would probably like to hawk a glob of something nasty my way. She’d been pretty cool up until a few months ago, hanging around for her picture to be taken when we saw her perched on a power pole along the dirt road running out to Highway 92, communicating with my wife the critter whisperer if Pam happened to be with me, and all that.
But then she blew it. Came in to hunt directly on our 20 acres. Came diving in on an airstrike that just missed one of the young desert cottontail rabbits not more than fifty yards from the Border Fort.
I had just stepped outside when she came swooping down past me with a fierce –WHOOOSH!–as her folded wings dropped her in a high speed, talon-extended rush. She made me mad. I cussed her out.
“What did you kill this time, you -*BLEEP*-?!”
I started striding over that way, reaching for the camera that rides ever at my left hip. She hit the air again before I could round the mesquite trees, but her talons were empty.
“Missed, did you, Miss Perfect?!”
She gained altitude, spiraled this way and that for a while, yelled back at me in full-throated bird challenge. Before all was said and done that day, she’d done her best to defy my rule that says, NO HAWKS ALLOWED TO HUNT HERE. Most importantly, at the end of the game, she knew full well I’d witnessed and recorded her humiliation when our little resident northern mockingbird dive-bombed her butt till she fled in a nervous huff.
The above photo was taken from a good 300 yards out with the handheld Canon PowerShot’s lens set at its maximum 56X zoom. Which means the picture quality is nothing to brag about, but the action is worth it. The mocker is finally putting the relatively huge raptor to flight after something like 10 minutes of nonstop harrassment..
Believe me, I’d been cheering the northern mockingbird all the way.
The little cottontail rabbit was still frozen in justified terror, hiding motionless under our two-wheel cargo trailer after surviving one of Nature’s Closest Calls out in the brush.
The redtails are plentiful and present throughout much if not most of North America. It’s not like Arizona has a monopoly on these remarkable hunters…but they’re still special critters. I may (and do) take issue with them hunting small furry animals on our property, but I also consider the redtail hawk to be my medicine bird.
No, I’m not Native American by blood. Most NA’s probably wouldn’t cuss out their own medicine bird for trying to catch lunch.
On the other hand, I once owned a ranch in western South Dakota where a big redtail dive-bombed one of our young domestic greenhead mallard ducks. The raptor was just starting to chow down on the still living duck when one of my employees happened to look out the front window. It took her a second or two to figure out what she was seeing, but once she realized what was going on, she ran out and yelled at the hawk. Said she had to get pretty close before the raptor gave up and took to the skies.
Amazingly, the mallard survived in good health…but from then on, that was one mean duck. The attack had left a perfectly mellow mallard with a personality disorder. It would chase my employee’s little dog around, trying to chomp its tail.
Gave the duck away later. The friend who took it and several others under her wing (so to speak) reported that a few months later, Mr. Mean Green got out of the cage she and her husband kept the ducks in at night for their own safety. Duck was never seen again. Most likely reason: Coyote bait.
Ever since, I’ve had attitude on any hawks that want to hunt in my front yard. Now, though, I’ve found the perfect anti-redtail hawk deterrent: The tiny but tough northern mockingbird.
Back to the here and now: The most recent hawk photos, taken on Janury 8, 2013. This one looks like a relative youngster to me. Or maybe they look different in colder weather. I’m no expert…not yet, anyway.
Incidentally, have you ever heard the cry of an eagle in, say, a western movie? If you have, that piercing and altogether beautiful sound most likely came from a redtail hawk, not an eagle. Eagle voices aren’t nearly as pretty, and it is, after all, Hollywood.
“Dub the hawk cry in for that tone-deaf eagle, wouldja?!” Cries the director, and the deed is done.
Flashback: A few more redtail hawk photos from the archives.
Reckon that’s about it for now, folks. We’ll get better pictures someday, more sharply focused. Like I said, I’m no real kind of expert on the redtail hawk, not even here in Cochise County–but I do know these birds are a pleasure to watch unless you’re a rabbit or other small ground-hugging critter or maybe a careless snake. They’re bold, they’re brave, but they know they’re no match for a ticked-off northern mockingbird a tenth their size. They’re ace predators but do miss the occasional bunny wabbit who’s fast enough to jump sideways at the right moment.
And they take insults personally.
UPDATE: January 12, 2013
Impressive. The very next day after publishing this page, a small batch of “new and improved” redtail hawk pictures jumped right into the camera. I was once again headed out to the highway on the dirt road, and once again a hawk was perched on “the usual” power pole guyline.
Strangely, it did not look like the younger-appearing bird from a few days before. ‘Tis a mystery. Do they change appearance from time to time? Or do Mama Hawk and Junior Hawk take turns flying the same route? You never see more than one at a time…maybe it’s like Superman changing into Clark Kent and vice versa, two identities for the same superhero (or in this case, superhunter).
One of the sharper pics has now been installed at the top of the page. The others are displayed below.
I was loving my good fortune. This was the first time in our nearly four years in this area that a redtail hawk had taken my picture-snapping for granted to the extent of simply going about its business, scanning the countryside in a full 360 degree circle. Scanning, scanning, scanning….
That’s how they make they’re living. That’s obvious. But to watch the process in action was a true privilege.
Ever seen a headless hawk before? Check this out.
Up until the Headless Hawk photo, the big redtail seemed to be simply checking out the buffet table otherwise known as the desert floor to see what might be on the day’s menu. No reptiles; it’s too cold for them at this time of year. A rabbit, hopefully, but anything small and furry will do. Or feathered, if it’s something slow and stupid. One online article claims this “chicken hawk” hardly ever preys on full-sized chickens, but we know they’ll take full-sized ducks. Refusing a chicken? Don’t think so.
No chickens out here, though.
The launch was awesome.
Update: February 16, 2014.
Yesterday, I lucked out in the red tailed hawk category. (Note: I’d always thought of this bird as a “redtail” hawk. This past year, though, I’ve notice the more common way to write it is “red tailed”, so I’m adopting that styling–but not going back through the entire post to rework the earlier wording.)
Anyway, the lucky part involved not one hawk but two, a pair, presumably a married couple. One bird perched atop a metal power pole near Highway 92–and as I watched, the other swooped down to join in the fun. I’m 70 years of age, and this was the first time I’d ever seen a hawk twosome cuddle up atop a (fortunately flat-topped) power pole like that.
Here are the photos.