05.13.18: Hawk in flight

A Red-tailed Hawk flies over Prairie Oaks Metro Park, West Jefferson, Ohio.


Technical information

March 8, 2016,
10:01 a.m.

39°59’26.292" N, 83°15'6.03" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1250th second


It’s not unusual for me to see hawks flying over fields and forests when I’m on one of my photo hikes. The birds can cover a sizable area very quickly, flying large, sweeping, circular routes as they search for prey.

I’ve captured quite a few photos of hawks in flight through the years, but only a handful of the shots are worthy of display. Many of the others have the bird in an uninteresting position or facing away from the camera, or distracting items (trees, power lines) in the background or the bird too far away. You might say I’m a bit picky about hawk-in-flight photos.

To be honest, shooting a hawk in flight isn’t easy. Once I see the bird I have get the camera and very heavy lens pointed up, frame the bird in the viewfinder, focus and track its flight while hoping that it hasn’t flown too far away during those few seconds of prep work.

Everything worked out this time.

I was hiking through Prairie Oaks Metro Park west of Columbus, Ohio, on an early-spring morning, hoping to see some early-arriving warblers or other birds at the start of the spring migration north. I saw this Red-tailed Hawk in the distance, but its flight path was carrying it over a distant tree line, too far away for me to photograph. So I returned to my search for migrating birds.

A couple of minutes later I looked up and saw that the hawk was doing a circular sweep above a field and seemed to be heading in my direction. I tilted the camera up, framed the bird in the viewfinder and began tracking it as it approached, grabbing a few shots while it was still too distant just to have some “safety” shots for potential use in case the bird changed direction and flew away.

But it kept approaching, then began banking to turn away from my position. That’s when I grabbed this shot.

I like how it shows the feather detail on the bird’s wing and back, and clearly shows the red tail that gives this hawk its name.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.