A Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk learning to hunt

/, Florida, Pinellas County, Red-shouldered Hawks, Sawgrass Lake Park/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 Lake Park in Florida for a few weeks when the fledglings were learning to hunt for themselves. Because Sawgrass Lake 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 fence post 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 Lake 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 blinds 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.

Life is good.



  1. Mia McPherson April 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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

  2. Prairie Birder April 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm

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

  3. Julie Gomez April 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm

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

  4. eric c11 April 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm

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

  5. Bob Bushell April 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Beautiful images Mia.

  6. Azstu April 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm

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

  7. Sherry in MT April 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

    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!

  8. Wally April 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

    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.

  9. Rohrerbot April 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

    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.

  10. judy watson April 7, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Fantastic shots!!

  11. Kathleen April 7, 2013 at 7:43 am

    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. Julie G. April 7, 2013 at 6:40 am

    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. M. Firpi April 7, 2013 at 5:53 am

    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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