A Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk learning to hunt

Portrait of a juvenile Red-shouldered HawkPortrait of a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk – Nikon D70, handheld. f5.6, 1/200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, flash fired, not baited

In July of 2007 I was fortunate to follow and photograph a family of Red-shouldered Hawks at Sawgrass County Park in Florida for a few weeks when the fledglings were learning to hunt for themselves. Because Sawgrass County Park has a high number of visitors each day the hawks were used to people and didn’t flush easily.

This juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk was perched on a metal fencepost so I opted to go for a portrait to remove the “hand of man”. My EXIF information doesn’t list the ISO used for this shot but I do know that the auto flash fired. I was still using my Nikon D70 when all of these images were created.

Red-shouldered Hawk juvenileRed-shouldered Hawk juvenile – Nikon D70, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 640, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, flash fired, not baited

The day after the portrait above was taken I was back at Sawgrass County Park hoping for decent light and to find the young hawks again, I found the Red-shouldered juveniles but the light wasn’t great because of thunder storms rolling through the area. I had been photographing this immature Red-Shouldered Hawk as it perched in a pine tree when it flew directly at me and as it flew over my head I could feel the whoosh of air from its wings. I thought the young hawk was going to carry off the straw hat I was wearing but as I turned I could see it had landed on the ground about 15 feet from me and was dispatching what appeared to be a Palmetto Bug.

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk trying to catch a Yellow Rat SnakeJuvenile Red-shouldered Hawk trying to catch a Yellow Rat Snake – Nikon D70, handheld, f4.8, 1/400, ISO 1000, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 80mm, flash fired, not baited

Not long after the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk ate the Palmetto Bug I could hear another Red-shouldered Hawk calling and the hawk I was photographing flew towards the sound. I slowly followed the sound and used the trunks of trees as a blind as I walked. I came up on two young Red-shouldered Hawks, one on the fence and the other was perched higher in a tree above the hawk you see in this frame. The hawks were very interested in trying to catch this Yellow Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta) that had woven its body through the links of the fence. I took a few images and left because I didn’t want to disrupt the hawks.

The next time I went to the park I measured one of the square links in the fence and according to my calculations this snake was over 6 foot in length. Sorry about the poor quality of the last image, it was dark under the trees and there was a light rain falling but I did want to capture the interactions I was observing.

I enjoyed following this family of Red-shouldered Hawks that summer.


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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. Thank you everyone for your comments on these Red-shouldered Hawk and Yellow Rat Snake images!

  2. Pingback: Birding News #12 | Prairie Birder

  3. Great photos, Mia, that must have been quite a hunting lesson for the hawk!

  4. Love your work, Mia! Terrific series! Thanks for sharing.

  5. great picures mia, and the last with the snake is a stunning action shoot, wow !
    have a nice day ☼

  6. Beautiful images Mia.

  7. stunning Mia! especially the portrait shot.. like a painting..

  8. Don’t you just love being able to go follow such stories and get to share the shots? This was a great series and as always amazing quality!

  9. Wonderful series on the young hawks! Those darned kids – they’ll try to eat anything! The learning process is fun to watch in any species.

  10. Extremely cool shot! That snake is huge!! So this was in Florida, huh?:) We may have the dangerous ones, but I think Florida beats the size meter when it comes to these reptiles. The Red-shouldered is a beautiful bird.

  11. The first image looks like a school portrait: perfect for a juvenile. We don’t see Red-shoulders as much any more. Looking back at the records, they used to be very common – result of a changing landscape alas, but it’s why the Red-tailed Hawk is so prevalent. One hawk’s loss is some other hawk’s gain, I suppose.

  12. Fantastic photographs of these immature Red-shouldered Hawks! That snake is long enough for the two young hawks to be very satisfied. It must have been very fun to observe these hawks over the summer.

  13. I saw these yellow rat snakes too. I love these. The portrait came out beautiful. I also went to the Sawgrass County Park in Florida. Seems like I’ll be around that area soon again.

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