The Photographer and The Hawk

(Note – I wrote this a few weeks before all the recent posts on IN-Bird about Snowy Owls and photographers. This is one of those reoccurring themes that has come up every year since I started birding and probably will until the day I stop.)

I have read on birding listserves and blogs about photographers who will do anything for a photo but I hadn’t ever seen it in person. With people being what they are, it wasn’t hard to imagining it happening. And let me state I believe that most photographers won’t go to extremes for a photo but as in any group, a few spoil it for all.

I was in San Diego birding Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on an early Saturday morning in November.   I was walking the roads looking for the resident birds of the area when I noticed a large pickup truck zoom in. I didn’t think anything about it and just kept moving.  I was walking along when the guy from the truck yelled over there was a hawk in a tree.  He said it flew in front of his truck so he pulled in for photos.  He was holding a camera with a huge telephoto lens on it. You know, the kind that looks like it belongs on Mt. Palomar.

TelescopeThe photographer said he thought it was an immature Broad-winged Hawk which would be uncommon for the area.  (And my mind is thinking very late for mid-November)  I said thanks for the info and took a few photos of the hawk myself from a distance, not saying I was pretty sure it was an immature Red-tailed Hawk.


I kept walking the looping roads and in little while circled back by the photographer.  He said he wished the bird would move so he could get a flight shot.  He said he had tried yelling, running around it, clapping, but to no avail.  Since I was far from home, I just said “Too bad”, turned, and walked away quickly before I said something else.

I really didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t figure out why he would need a picture of a bird so badly? Was it that important to him? Why?

I eventually saw the photographer leave and I don’t think the bird had moved.  But when I  finally left I saw a flock of crows harassing a bird a little farther down the road, I was sure it was the hawk.  I don’t really think the man’s actions would bother a hawk sitting 40-50′ up a tree. But maybe his actions had drawn the attention of the crows so they started to harass it? Since that is typical hawk/crow interaction it really wasn’t a problem. But just maybe it would lead to the hawk doing something like flying in front of a car to avoid the crows?

2 Replies to “The Photographer and The Hawk”

  1. Too bad the photographer couldn’t just be a little more patient waiting for his flight shot. The bird would have moved eventually without any unethical behavior from the photographer. I share your frustration, Bob.

    That being said, I can see why he wanted a flight shot – that buteo does look like an immature Broad-winged Hawk. The breast pattern is “blotchier”, the streaking on the sides of the upper breast, and the thicker terminal band on the tail. Buteos are tough, though, and I’m less familiar with western ‘tails.

    Did you do ebird that day? You could submit your photo along with your ebird checklist and see what their quality control says about it. It’s an intriguing bird, for sure.

    1. Sorry for the late reply. Traveling for business. Yes, I did eBird that day and listed it as a Red-tailed. The white breast and dark belly bands matched an immature Red-tailed in a couple of references I checked. I will send it to a San Diego birder and get his input. I will let you know his response.


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