Love is in the air (and sometimes competition too): Red-tailed Hawks


This is breeding season for hawks and other raptors in many areas of the North America and this sometimes includes competition by the male birds. I observed an apparent pair of Red-tailed Hawks last year as they engaged in some aerial courtship displays, first flying near each other at low elevation, then soaring in circles together at high elevation then a series of dives then ascents (like a roller coaster).



As shown in the photo on the right they landed in a nearby tree as did a third Red-tailed Hawk so I drove closer as I didn’t think this threesome would work and I wanted to get in position to try to photograph what might be coming.

Hawk breeding season can provide some interesting but often challenging opportunities to photograph these birds when they are more occupied with courtship or competition than concentrating on bird photographers.

I find that using my car as a blind is usually the best way to get photograph Red-tailed Hawks as they are quite skittish about people (with good reason as they are still shot at even though it has been illegal for many years).

It did not take long for the two males (the one at the top of the photo and the one that is just visible on the bottom right) to engage in combat though it was brief.

It is best to have a camera that offers some fast settings in order to get these action photos without blurring. It also helps to not have any trees in the way as in the photo on left since autofocus doesn’t work when there are branches in the way and it is difficult to quickly focus manually on these fast action shots as illustrated by the blurring in my photo.

As soon as the battle was over, the victor left with his mate while the loser flew off alone.

Red-tailed Hawks like these are the most common hawks around most of the U.S. and Canada. They are solitary birds except during breeding season when they can be seen perched near each other or engaged in aerial courtship displays.

Are you seeing hawks perched together as I have been in the past several weeks?
Have you seen hawks engaged in aerial combat or courtship displays?


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