I typically don’t think of birds by their category. But when I got a new Crossley ID Guide, which groups birds by categories, I realized much of my winter shooting has been of raptors. Also known as birds of prey, raptors hunt and feed on vertebrates. Their name comes from the Latin word rapio, which means to take by force.
One raptor I’ve been photographing is the Bald Eagle. Most raptors are know for their keen eyesight, strong feet with talons used for grabbing prey, and curved beaks for tearing the flesh of their prey. The eagle certainly fits these characteristics.
The Snowy Owl is another bird of prey I’ve been taking pictures of. While the Snowy and other owls certainly look different from other raptors, they have a predatory lifestyle and physical characteristics of the hooked beak, talons, and keen eyesight.
But if there is one bird of prey that epitomizes the raptor, it is the hawk. For me, hawks are one of the hardest birds to identify with certainty. I have sometimes confused them with juvenile bald eagles. The greatest difference between the two birds is size, though, with the eagle being much larger than the hawk. Further confusing the matter is that there are only 60 species of eagles while there are over 200 species of hawks.
One common year-round hawk in our area is the Red-tailed hawk, of which there are several varieties that are highly variable in body plumage. I think this bird is a juvenile Red-tail. It also is similar to the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk and the Broad-winged hawk. When these species are young, some of their strong identifying features haven’t yet appeared, making certain identification even more challenging.
I sat pulled off to the roadside for quite a while watching this hawk scour the field below for its next prey. It watched in all directions, including keeping an eye on me, my long camera lens, and that white fluffy dog hanging out the window.
Occasionally, the hawk would ruffle its feathers. I was pretty sure it was going to take off in flight. Then it stood and raised its hind feathers. Here we go, I thought. A chance to capture a bird in flight!
Oh, my! It looks like it had another kind of business to take care of.
Having finished with “that” personal issue, the hawk gracefully lifted off the utility pole. I watched it soar throughout the sky. It seemed to be enjoying the flying and gave no indication it was on the hunt for some kind of prey.
Several times the hawk returned to the pole, and scoped out the field below, including the watchers in the blue Subaru.
After a brief rest on the pole, the hawk took to the air again. Not once did I see it head towards the ground to snatch up a critter. It must’ve been a good day for just relaxing and soaring. I guess we all need times like that.
FINAL KNEE UPDATE: It was January 8 when I took these hawk photographs, two days before my right knee replacement surgery. It’s been six weeks Monday since that surgery and I continue to do well. Walking better, hardly any pain, no drugs, and increasing the time on my exercise bike. My official physical therapy has concluded although I continue my home program. Hopefully, when the weather improves and the roads clear, I’ll be able to get outside for some walking and biking. For now, I’m moving on from knee updates to getting back outside with my camera. Oh, how I’ve missed those drives! A final thank you for all your good wishes, emails, calls, and notes.