I’ve spent many hours watching Rough-legged Hawks hunt. Nearly always they hunt from the air or from elevated perches but several years ago this bird showed me a technique I had never seen before and haven’t since.
All of these images are presented in the order they were taken.
Techs for these shots were: 1/2000 – 1/3200, f/8. ISO 400, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in
I found the hawk on the ground and as I approached it in my pickup it didn’t fly off as I expected it would. Here it’s looking at me but most of the time it was scanning the grasses in the vicinity – obviously hunting for voles from the ground.
It would lift off but only fly a few feet before it landed again.
In this first lift-off it had vegetation in its talons. I’ve seen them do this before – it’s almost like they’re reluctant to let go of the plant material after they’ve missed the prey.
The hawk landed again…
And intensely scanned the surrounding area for prey.
Then another take-off…
and it flew within inches of the ground…
before it pounced on a vole and swallowed it.
Then it continued to hunt in the same manner.
and another. There’s blood on the right foot from the last vole.
The hawk repeatedly did the same thing – take off…
and fly very slow and low for a few feet…
and then pounce on potential prey again.
I photographed this unusual hunting behavior of the bird for 21 minutes but that first vole is the only one I saw it catch.
One possible explanation: research suggests that Rough-legged Hawks may be able to visually detect vole urine and feces and then preferentially hunt in areas of high prey abundance. When researchers spread straw that had been soaked with vole urine and feces these hawks hunted significantly more in areas where the straw had been spread than they did in control areas. Perhaps this hunting technique gave the bird a better closeup look as it (possibly) searched for urine and feces evidence of its prey than it would get from a much higher and more typical vantage point for the species.
Whatever the reason for the behavior it surely was an interesting 21 minutes for me.