Falling In Love With Wildlife Photography | Birds Of Prey

When I first began to get interested in photography I was most interested in photographing wildlife. The first wildlife subjects that captivated me were birds of prey. This is in part because birds of prey are some of the most accessible wildlife to photograph where I live. And they were also captivating because of growing up loving nature and wildlife as a kid these were the types of birds I was fascinated by.

Birds of prey were the perfect gateway drug to a deeper interest in photography. Eagles, hawks, and falcons were the type of birds that it was cool to be interested in as a young man growing up. Or at least as cool as being interested in any birds could ever be. I had some of my earliest formative photography experiences early on trying to photograph birds of prey.

This really darkly colored juvenile bald eagle was perched in a tree at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

As I was first getting into wildlife photography focusing on birds of prey I spent a lot of time just walking around carrying my camera. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just walking around hoping something cool would happen. And that is when the awe inspiring moments happened for me. When you don’t know what you don’t know. When you don’t know what to expect. And then seemingly out of nowhere something cool materialized right in front of your eyes.

Early on I was fortunate that the office where I worked at the time was based near the Chemung River. On my breaks and lunches I would often go for walks carrying my camera. I would make my way over to the river. I could walk over the bridge and to the nearby park along the river.

First encounters

On one of these walks is when I remember one of my first encounters with our beautiful wildlife in my area. I was standing on the bridge that crosses the Chemung River. Then seemingly out of nowhere a bald eagle flew so low over the bridge. It felt like the eagle was right above me. I don’t remember if I even captured any photographs of that occurrence. At the time I don’t even think I was very aware of bald eagles living in our area. This is something I am much more aware of now. And this moment is one that really solidified my interest in our local wildlife and photography.

It was so cool when this Peregrine Falcon fluffed up and spread his feathers. 2008. Chemung River.

On a separate occasion I was on the way back to my office from one of my walks. I was right in ton now. Walking by various office buildings. Then suddenly a hawk flashed by. The hawk flew right into a thick hedge of pine bushes. I had never seen anything quite like that. I thought maybe the hawk had been injured and crashed into the bushes or something. Then moments later the hawk emerged. The hawk quickly flew off with the prey it was after when it dove into the bushes. Luckily I had my camera out and ready. I was even able to capture some modest images of that incident. At the time I was super excited by the images. Definitely one of the coolest sights of wildlife in action I had seen in person.

I have been fortunate to have a lot of great experiences with birds of prey. It all stems from taking the time to be outside with a camera. I know that every moment I am not out there I am missing out on something.

Eagles and osprey

Some birds I have more photographs of than others. I probably have more photographs of bald eagles or osprey as individuals than I do of all the other birds of prey I have photographed combined. A lot of this is due to the nature of bald eagles and osprey. Both bald eagles and osprey are large birds. They both live by the water. And they can be relatively predicable. I am fortunate that I live in an area with a lot of water features that can be attractions for these two birds of prey. And both bald eagles and osprey populations in our area seem to be on the rise.

This Cooper’s Hawk was a challenge to photograph flying through the dimly lit forest.

Also, the hunting style of bald eagles and osprey lends itself to the ability to capture more images of the birds. Both bald eagles and osprey can often be seen from a distance as they circle overhead and hone in on the prey they are trying to target. Often the birds get lower and lower until they are ready to strike. This can provide ample opportunities for the photographer to get into position, track the birds movement, and create the photo they are looking for.

Hawks and falcons

Hawks and falcons on the other hand are significantly smaller than bald eagles and osprey. And hawks and falcons are more difficult to see than bald eagles and osprey because in general they aren’t just sitting out in the open. With the exception of the red trailed hawk in our area, which can often be seen atop trees or telephone poles. But even if you see a hawk or falcon it doesn’t mean you will have an opportunity for a photograph.

Hawks and falcons often seem to be less tolerant of the presence of humans. So, you have to be very careful when trying to get into place to take a photograph or the bird will just fly away before you even get close. Hawks and falcons also often seem to be quick strike attackers. They can watch their prey from afar or from hiding then launch themselves quickly into action. They dive on their prey and then quickly exit the area. You may not ever see them coming and you may not see where they go.

Barred Owls are one of only a couple species of owls I’ve seen in the wild. This is not one of them.

I love birds of prey as wildlife photography subjects. But, birds of prey are also great for portraiture. If you have the opportunity to see birds of prey in captivity or birds that are injured and unable to be released into the wild that are used for educational purposes take full advantage of that. I have really enjoyed opportunities I have had to photograph birds up close during educational programs that I would either just never see period, or that I would never be able to get that close to. It is amazing to be able to get up close and see all the intricate details of the feathers, beaks, and eyes that various birds of prey poses.

If you enjoyed this article you can click the link below to support the work I do here or subscribe to my email so you don’t miss out in anything I share.

Success! You're on the list.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: