Tattered Looking Molting Red-tailed Hawk

/, Box Elder County, Red-tailed Hawks, Utah/Tattered Looking Molting Red-tailed Hawk

Perched molting Red-tailed HawkPerched molting Red-tailed Hawk – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This time of the year I see plenty of molting Red-tailed Hawks and they can look pretty tattered, worn and shabby. Two days ago I found a pair of Red-tailed Hawks in northern Utah, the one pictured above and a darker, rufous adult. The darker adult took off right away and flew off into the distance but this one remained perched on the lichen covered boulder for a bit. The worn feathers on its head were my first clue that the red-tailed was molting and a quick look at its tail was another. There are two tail feathers in the center of the tail that are longer and only have dark two dark terminal bands while the other tail feathers have a series of dark bands and are shorter. The difference in the length is an indicator of molt.

I liked how the red tail feather colors and the lichen on the boulder were similar.

Molting Red-tailed Hawk lift offMolting Red-tailed Hawk lift off – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

When the Red-tailed Hawk lifted off from the boulder I could easily see how tattered looking the hawk’s plumage was and although it isn’t as “beautiful” as a Red-tailed in fresh plumage I still think the hawk is handsome even if it is in molt.

Molting Red-tailed Hawk flightMolting Red-tailed Hawk flight – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

When the hawk flew past me it was harder to tell that it was molting but the uneven length of the tail feathers gives it away. According to BNA the peak of molt for body feathers is August through October and for primary feathers it is May through June and then August through October for Red-tailed Hawks.

The light colored eye can be an indicator that this Red-tailed Hawk hasn’t reached full maturity because most adults have dark eyes but there are adult red-tails that have light eyes. Just a bit of trivia.

Life is good, birds make it more interesting.


My friend Jerry Liguori has an informative post on tail bands of Red-Tailed Hawks here on the Hawkwatch International website.


  1. Elephant's Child June 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Love that lift off.
    And tatty or not, they are beautiful.

  2. Sallie June 26, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    A falconer friend just sent me a picture of a young Red-tail he’s been monitoring – the photo showed the white over the eyes and some pretty tattered looking body feathers. Since he is experienced, yet hadn’t seen many in that state, my guess is that they pass through the ragamuffin stage pretty quickly? Not sure. But – great shots. I love your photos. Glad I joined up.

  3. John Sherrill June 26, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Thanks for the very interesting series. Too bad we can’t molt! John

  4. Patty Chadwick June 26, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Interesting blog, interesting link…bird may have rag tag feathers but still has a handsome head….

  5. Bob McPherson June 26, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Beautiful images Mia.

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