Harlan’s Hawk juvenile with an American Coot (Graphic)

Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk juvenile with an American Coot Dark morph Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk juvenile with an American Coot

I haven’t had many opportunities to photograph the Harlan’s subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk so I was thrilled yesterday when I spotted a juvenile dark morph Harlan’s Hawk feeding on a dead American Coot on the bank of a creek. There were coot feathers all over the snow and the juvenile Harlan’s didn’t seem bothered by our presence as it kept feeding on its prey.

A pile of feathers and a Harlan's Hawk A pile of feathers and a Harlan’s Hawk

This was a real treat for me to see this bird up close, observe its behavior and to be able to photograph it. Harlan’s are a dark subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk and typically I see far fewer of them than western Red-tailed Hawks.

Harlan's Hawk juvenile

Harlan’s Hawk juvenile

I was able to get a couple hundred images of this young raptor while it fed on the coot.

Harlan's lifting off with prey Harlan’s lifting off with prey

Then another vehicle that had passed by the pickup backed up to see what we were photographing and that was too much for the Harlan’s comfort so it grasped the coot in its talons…

Juvenile Harlan's flying away with an American Coot Juvenile Harlan’s flying away with an American Coot

And flew away to finish its meal in peace.


*All images were taken with a Nikon D300, f8, ISO’s of between 400 to 500, shutter speeds between 1/1250 and 1600, +0.3 EV, a Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited, set up or called in. The Harlan’s provided its own meal.

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. What a find! Anytime I see a Harlan’s, I am happy. This bird looks just like a bird we had at the Goshutes the past fall. Anytime you come away with photos of a Harlan’s, you should feel blessed. The exceptional photos here are an added benefit.

    P.S. If it is of any merit, I agree with others who confidently would call this a Harlan’s. I know some might have questioned it ;).

    • Thanks for the chuckle Bryce! :-) I’m always happy to see a Harlan’s too! Would a hawk from the Goshutes show up here in the Salt Lake Valley or do they head further south

  2. Commendable series of images. Anytime you get to capture a depredation event (i.e. a kill), it is a special moment. Too bad the hawk flushed, but image of the dangling American Coot, so lifeless in the talons, will be in my dreams.

    • Hi Radd, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on this post. I agree, any time I can get images of a predation event I am happy, I love to show behavior and these show it well. That last images speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

  3. Incredible series, Mia! This is a beautiful species! It’s interesting to see how small the Coot looks in comparison to the hawk; gives a good reference to how large this hawk really is!

  4. Too bad about the disturbance by the other vehicle, but you did get some awesome photos:)

  5. “Timing is everything.”

    And knowing your subject, and good equipment, and technical expertise…….all of which you have down to an art form.

    Superb images! Thank you for sharing them.


  6. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    What a great treat! to learn of the varieties of red-tails. This bird was certainly a gorgeous specimen…. so many thanks for sharing, I can’t count them.

  7. Wow, those are some pretty cool photos, Mia!

  8. Fantastic images! I usually only see the aftermath of these events. Occasionally when I go to Merritt Island, I see piles of coot feathers. I rarely get to see what you photographed so beautifully.

  9. Great catch!!! You were indeed lucky to get that and I love the shots.

  10. Fabulous photos as always Mia

  11. Just like Mother Nature intended it to be. You’ve given a great lesson here, with superb photos, as usual.

  12. These are fantastic!!
    Where did you see this?

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