Rough-legged Hawk Kiting, Being Bit and Eating on the Fly

/, Antelope Island State Park, Davis County, Rough-legged Hawks, Utah/Rough-legged Hawk Kiting, Being Bit and Eating on the Fly

Rough-legged Hawk with a Vole in flight Rough-legged Hawk with a Vole in flight – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Some days are wonderful for bird photography especially when the subject is close, exhibits interesting behavior and the light is in my favor. These images are from an afternoon just like that when I happened across a lovely Rough-legged Hawk on a breezy day.

I was out looking for birds to photograph on December 21, 2011 when I spotted this Rough-legged Hawk flying close to where I was located.  With enough time to stop, get my camera settings straight and get into position it wasn’t long before I was able to focus on the hawk through my viewfinder to see that it had a Vole in its talons along with grasses it had plucked up when it grabbed the rodent from the ground.

 Rough-legged Hawk in flight with preyRough-legged Hawk in flight with prey – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The Roughy flew in close to give me some good looks at it and the Vole in its talons with great eye contact, light under the wing and a very nice flight pose. At the time I thought I’d only have a few minutes with this hawk, I am happy to say that I was wrong!

 Rough-legged Hawk hovering with the VoleRough-legged Hawk hovering with the Vole – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 285mm, natural light, not baited

As the icy wind buffeted the Rough-legged Hawk it hovered with the Vole grasped in its talons. The hawk may have been looking for a place to land to eat its prey when this image was taken, it was nearly motionless at this point. I had to zoom back to keep the whole bird in the frame.

 Rough-legged Hawk after dropping the VoleRough-legged Hawk after dropping the Vole – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x Tc at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I could see the Vole moving through my viewfinder so I knew it was still alive and I am presuming that it decided to bite the Rough-legged Hawk which caused the bird to let it go. I’ve seen this occur once before where I could see the teeth of the Vole very close to the bird’s leg and then watched as the Rough-legged Hawk allowed the Vole to drop then flew down and retrieved it. The same behavior occurred as I photographed this hawk. The image above was taken just after the Vole started to plummet downwards while the bird kept an eye on it as it swooped towards to the ground.

I’ve been bitten by a rodent (a hamster) and can attest to the fact that it is not fun.

Rough-legged Hawk lifting back up after swooping to the groundRough-legged Hawk lifting back up after swooping to the ground – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/3200, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x Tc at 400mm, natural light, not baited

When the Rough-legged Hawk first lifted off I could not tell if it had retrieved the Vole but it sure gave me a great view of its back and top of the wings. I love the dark chocolates, creams and butterscotch colors evident in the plumage of Rough-legged Hawks.

Banking Rough-legged Hawk with the VoleBanking Rough-legged Hawk with the Vole – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x Tc at 400mm, natural light, not baited

As the hawk banked towards my right I was able to see that it had the Vole grasped firmly in it talons once again before it flew off to the east and I lost sight of it in the distance near the ground.  I can remember thinking “wow, that was great” and then reviewed the images I had taken on my LCD screen. I thought my opportunity with this hawk was over for the day but I still felt elated.

Rough-legged Hawk cruising byRough-legged Hawk cruising by – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x Tc at 400mm, natural light, not baited

When I looked back up from reviewing the images on my screen I could see that the hawk was hovering close to the road near the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake, while hurrying to get closer and into a better position I kept watching the hawk as it glided in the strong breeze occasionally looking down trying to spot more prey. It would kite for a bit then turn in the wind and fly sharply away to the east or west just to circle back around again.

Because the wind was blowing from the north the hawk could pick up a lot speed when it flew east or west and the image above was captured when it was flying towards the west, the Rough-legged Hawk sort of looks like a feathered torpedo in this pose to me.

Rough-legged Hawk looking for more preyRough-legged Hawk looking for more prey – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

There were times that the hawk would fly by so close that I had trouble keeping it in the frame, on several occasions I took images that just showed the face and parts of the wings. The Roughy would kite over the shoreline searching for prey, twisting its head down to scan the ground or would hang motionless in the wind. It would approach close then move away. It was fascinating to watch this beautiful hawk. I took hundreds of photos, far more than I could ever put in this single post.

Rough-legged Hawk eating on the FlyRough-legged Hawk eating on the Fly  – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, +1.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I watched the hawk catch quite a few voles on the ground by quickly dispatching the Voles down its throat in a few pieces. I’ve watched other raptors tear at their prey and taking their time ingesting it, in my opinion Rough-legged Hawks eat much faster than they do. I was soon going to witness just how quickly they eat.

I observed the Rough-legged Hawk dive into the dried vegetation and come back up with a vole, this time in its bill not the talons as I had seen earlier.  The Hawk flew out over the water and as I clicked on the shutter button I watched as the Rough-legged Hawk swallowed the prey… in flight… whole!

Sorry about the image quality of these three frames, the hawk just didn’t move into the best light to capture great images of this interesting behavior.

Rough-legged Hawk eating while in flightRough-legged Hawk eating while in flight – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 400, +1.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I am posting three of six images that show the entire event with the vole clearly visible in I, going into the bill in II and the final one shows just the tail and the feet of the Vole still visible.

A Rough-legged Hawk swallowing a vole in flightA Rough-legged Hawk swallowing a vole in flight – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, +1.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

It may sound difficult to believe but this entire eating process was over in less than two seconds. If I had blinked or taken a sip of my coffee I would have missed it all. Bird Photographers do need to be on their toes!

The Rough-legged Hawk; on the other hand, barely moved during this time as the wind held it aloft.

Close up Rough-legged Hawk Close up Rough-legged Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, +1.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The Rough-legged Hawk flew by so close in the image above that I was surprised it came out sharp because I thought it had gotten too close for my minimum focusing distance, things were happening so fast it was a challenge to even react quickly enough with changing light conditions and backgrounds. Practice, practice, practice does pay off.

Goofy looking Rough-legged HawkGoofy looking Rough-legged Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

This last image was just so funny I could not resist processing it to share. Even the most regal hawks can look goofy at times! I call this the “chicken neck” pose. I’d seen the bird doing this from a distance and was very pleased that it did it this final time close enough for this photo.

It was very interesting watching the Rough-legged Hawk kiting, being bit and eating on the fly near the Great Salt Lake.

I spent just over 30 minutes with this Rough-legged Hawk, observing and photographing great behavior and in my opinion it was a “picture perfect day”! For this bird photographer anyway.

Mia

33 Comments

  1. […] Rough-legged Hawk – Kiting, Being Bit and Eating on the Fly […]

  2. Dale Stanton January 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Beautiful series, Mia! I can only dream of getting shots like these – but I’m working on it. How many raptors do we have that casually eat on the wing like the Rough-Legged Hawk and the Mississippi Kite?

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Hi Dale, thanks so much for your comment on my images!

      I’ve seen Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, Kites and Rough-legged Hawks eat on the fly. According to Jerry Ligouri Buteos will eat on the wing if competition from other buteos is present on the feeding grounds.

  3. Dan Huber January 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Fantastic Mia, what a special experience to observe this, and you recorded it amazingly well.

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks Dan, it was a very special experience and I’m glad I could photograph it.

  4. Larry Jordan January 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Wow Mia, what an incredible series of the Rough-legged Hawk and the vole! I can’t imagine how thrilled you must have been to capture these beautiful images of such a gorgeous creature feeding on its prey in mid air! Did the hawk have to jerk its head up and down to swallow that rodent in full flight? The last shot is rather comical but my favorite in the series is the shot of the hawk starting to dive after it dropped the vole. Amazing!

    • Mia McPherson January 23, 2012 at 5:17 am

      Hi Larry,

      I was very thrilled to observe and photograph this Rough-legged Hawk! The hawk did move its head up and down when it ate the vole in mid air, but only a little bit, not as much as I would have expected. I liked the dive shot a lot too even though I can’t see the eyes, it is the action in that frame that I really enjoy. Thank you for your comments on this post!

  5. Gene Vermillion January 21, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    These photographs are amazing. Thanks.
    I once saw an osprey catch a fish from a pond only to have a bald eagle fly by and steal it.
    Gene
    birdwatching-birds.blogspot.com

    • Mia McPherson January 23, 2012 at 5:10 am

      Gene, thank you kindly for visiting my blog and for your comment on this post. I’ve seen Bald Eagles steal fish from Ospreys too, it is pretty amazing to see!

  6. Linda Rockwell January 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Absolutely wonderful photos Mia! Every one is a total WOW!

    • Mia McPherson January 23, 2012 at 5:06 am

      Linda, thank you so much for your comment on this post. It was an incredible experience with the Rough-legged Hawk and I’ very happy to have been there to photograph it.

  7. Preston January 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Super shots and stories

  8. Jim Hackley January 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Wonderful post and flight series, excellent IQ and story, the feather patterns on hawks are just amazing.

    • Mia McPherson January 21, 2012 at 5:58 am

      Thanks Jim, good to see you. I agree, the feather patterns on hawks are amazing and this one gave a lot of great views. Thank youfor your comment.

  9. Beverly Everson January 20, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Fabulous, as always!!! That last shot is priceless: “Did you get it?” LOL

    • Mia McPherson January 20, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Thanks Beverly, that last image is pricless, I can’t help but laugh when I view it.

  10. Tammy Karr January 20, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Wow, what a spectacular event to observe! And of course, your photos are absolutely amazing!

    • Mia McPherson January 20, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Tammy,

      It was great fun to photograph and observe this hawk for that 30 minutes. Thank you for you comment.

  11. Steve Creek January 20, 2012 at 5:02 am

    These are amazing Mia!

    • Mia McPherson January 20, 2012 at 5:19 am

      Thanks so much Steve, the hawk was amazing!

  12. Bill Senske January 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    WOW

  13. Bob Zeller January 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Mia, Mia, you done it again. An incredible experience, along with incredible photos. Thank you so much for telling us all the details. Indeed, it was a picture perfect day. 🙂

    • Mia McPherson January 20, 2012 at 5:18 am

      Bob, it was a picture perfect day! Thanks for your very kind words on the photos.

  14. Laurence B January 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    There’s such an excellent resolution to these shots. I love the picture with the Salt Lake behind the Roughy. How high would you say the bird was? It often seem like you two are on eye level.
    That’s pretty incredible to eat in the air, and so quickly. I have a hard enough time eating while driving, and I don’t use my feet to do it either. Impressive bird, great photos.

    • Mia McPherson January 20, 2012 at 5:17 am

      Hi Laurence, I’d guess the birds was about 20 feet above the water’s surface, I photographed it from the road which is elevated and acts like a dike. Thanks so much for your comment.

  15. Earl Nelson January 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks again, these are amazing.

  16. Garen Johnson January 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    What a fantastic series Mia!! Can’t imagine it coming THAT close! You really are amazing!!

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

      Hi Garen, it is always amazing when a wild bird or creature willingly comes that close and exhibits such great behavior! Thanks for your very kind comment.

  17. Julie G. January 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Spectacular! What a fascinating experience. Incredible action shots. Mia, your photographs are truly magnificent!

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Thank you Julie, it was a fascinating experience and the hawk was so cooperative too.

Comments are closed.