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 juvenileHarlan’s Hawk juvenile with an American Coot

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.


  1. Bryce Robinson January 29, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    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 ;).

    • Mia McPherson January 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      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. Radd Icenoggle January 23, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:48 am

      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. Tammy Karr January 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    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!

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:46 am

      Tammy, I agree with you about how small the coot looks in comparison with the hawk, red-tails are big birds! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Susan January 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Thanks Susan, I guess the driver of the other vehicle might not have known that they might scare the hawk away.

  5. Wally January 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    “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.


    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Thank you for your very kind (and astute) comment Wally!

  6. Merrill Ann Gonzales January 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

    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.

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

      A pleasure to share Merrill. This Harlan’s Hawk is a gorgeous bird.

  7. Prairie Birder January 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Wow, those are some pretty cool photos, Mia!

  8. Scott Simmons January 23, 2013 at 10:29 am

    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.

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Scott, I’ve been fortunate this past year to get lots of images of birds on prey.

  9. Sherry in MT January 23, 2013 at 8:08 am

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

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Thanks Sherry, I feel very lucky to have spotted the hawk and to get these images.

  10. Laurence Butler January 23, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Fabulous photos as always Mia

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Thank you much Laurence!

  11. M. Firpi January 23, 2013 at 5:48 am

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

  12. judy watson January 23, 2013 at 5:40 am

    These are fantastic!!
    Where did you see this?

    • Mia McPherson January 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Judy, this bird was at Farmington Bay, didn’t see it yesterday though. Thanks for commenting

  13. Elijah Goodwin January 23, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Nice series Mia!

Comments are closed.