Ragged Red-tailed Hawk in Molt

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A Ragged Red-tailed Hawk A Ragged Red-tailed Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Many of the adult Red-tailed Hawks that I saw and photographed in southwestern Montana on my last trip had worn feathers and were molting. Bird feathers are made from keratin, the same substance as our fingernails and even though the feathers are durable they do become worn and need to be replaced. The adult Red-tailed in my image shows worn primaries or flight feathers and it looks a little ragged. As with most birds this Red-tailed will go through a regular and predictable molt and will look sleek when the molt is done.

I think if I wore the same clothes every day for 365 days a year I’d look a bit ragged too.



  1. Robert Stalnaker August 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Mia, this is a fabulous image of a Red-tailed Hawk. You stated it is in natural light and that makes it all the more impressive because the sun is at a high angle, yet the underside looks excellent without flash.

    • Mia McPherson August 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Thank you Robert, the light was high but I still liked how well the underside of the wings were lit.

  2. Dave Sparks August 6, 2013 at 3:18 am

    “I think if I wore the same clothes every day for 365 days a year I’d look a bit ragged too.”
    Especially if you flapped your arms a lot!
    Great angle, with excellent eye contact and wing position.

  3. Jerry Liguori August 5, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Great shot!!!! I love Red-tails

  4. kim August 4, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I’ve had trouble posting a comment for this image but am trying again as it’s such a stunning image Mia and somehow when I look at it I feel airborne, congratulations.

  5. M. Firpi August 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    It’s makes sense, all this molting for a majestic bird as this one. Mia, I just posted an article on Todies on my blog. They are truly Caribbean, but none of the photos are mine. They measure barely around 3 inches. I’ve developed an acute tendonitis in my R thumb which spreads to the wrist; so I will not be able to hand hold a 400mm for a while.

  6. Elephant's Child August 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    And even at their most ragged, they look better than me at my best. I do love your shots of feathered joy. Thank you.

  7. Loekie van der Wal August 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    What a beautiful picture, Mia. I saw yesterday also a Red-tailed Hawk, but was too far away to get a nice picture. I always enjoy your blogs with the fantastic shots!

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks Loekie, if only we had a dollar for each time we were too far away to get a nice picture…. 😉

  8. Bob Bushell August 3, 2013 at 5:57 am

    He/she looked ok from here. Lovely bird.

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Thanks Bob, some people won’t photograph a ragged looking bird but I think they are beautiful too.

  9. Eileen August 3, 2013 at 5:53 am

    Beautiful capture, Mia! Happy Birding and have a great weekend!

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 6:03 am

      Thank you Eileen, I hope you have a great weekend filled with birds and light!

  10. Gary DeFeyter August 3, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Wonderful shot. I look forward to your shots each morning when I turn on the computer. Nice work.

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 6:01 am

      Thank you very much Gary, I enjoy sharing what I see with my eyes and camera!

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