Birds-of-prey visiting my backyard

Sometimes if we are really lucky we don’t have to go very far to spot birds-of-prey. This short article features some images of birds-of-prey that were recently visiting my backyard in Grimsby, Ontario.

Unfortunately we often have to capture images ‘in the moment’ which often means through windows as is the case with the first four images in this article. If we try to shoot straight through the glass panels of windows it can help to minimize the negative impact on image sharpness. Since the birds were perched on a fence on the side of my backyard I had to shoot at a very obtuse angle and under this situation sharpness suffered considerably.

I need to state upfront that I am only guessing when it comes to the species of birds that I photographed for this article. If any readers have some expertise they can share I would love to know the exact species. As far as I can tell these first three images are of a Coopers Hawk.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1600

It arrived late in the afternoon, necessitating me using a slower shutter speed to try to keep my ISO as low as possible.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1400
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1400

After taking a few images through my kitchen window I used the front door and went outside, then tried to sneak up on the hawk perched on the fence in my backyard. As soon as I slowly poked my head up over the fence it immediately took flight and I was unable to capture any additional images.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1400
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1400

As you can see with the image below, I was treated to another visitor in my backyard this morning. My best guess, based on its small size and colouring, is that it was a Merlin falcon. (NOTE: special thanks to one of our readers, Glen Fox, for clarifying that the bird is actually a sharp-shinned hawk)

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291mm, efov 786mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291mm, efov 786mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-160

I shot the image above through my kitchen window, and knowing that sharpness would suffer considerably due to the shooting angle I went outside to try my stealth skills once again.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160

This time I tried to shield my head behind the neighbor’s gate post, allowing me to stand up unnoticed. I was able to acquire focus on the bird and captured the image above. You can clearly see the dramatic improvement with image sharpness.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160

Even though the falcon was quite a bit smaller than the hawk I spotted the previous day, it was not nearly as skittish as the larger bird.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

This allowed me to slowly and carefully change my position behind the fence in order to capture a few different perspectives of the falcon.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250mm, efov 675mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-450
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250mm, efov 675mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-450

I kept my face hidden behind my Nikon 1 V2 and did not make direct eye contact with the bird.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-220
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-220

It even ruffled up its feathers for me…

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360

Finally it turned around and looked like it was going to fly off, so I captured one final image focusing in as tight as I could.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-280
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-280

As I slowly re-framed my shot to allow for some flight room, the bird quickly dropped down off the fence and flew off before I could acquire focus. Maybe I’ll be luckier the next time I get another bird-of-prey visitor!

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7 thoughts on “Birds-of-prey visiting my backyard”

  1. Lovely shots Tom. I managed to catch an adult Cooper’s (I think) on my neighbor’s back yard fence when I had my D7200 + 200-500 rental. I still can’t believe how close it let me get to shoot it. That was so much fun! Well worth being late to church to get it. Raptors are such beautiful animals. Too bad most of them are so camera shy. I try to get them in other places and they fly off before I can get close enough for a good portrait.

    1. Hi Sean,
      Thanks for the positive comment – I’m glad you liked the images! I totally agree with you that raptors are really beautiful animals. I find them very majestic and regal looking. Having a long lens is always a huge benefit as they can be quite skittish as we both know! Sounds like you had some luck getting in closer than usual with that Cooper’s hawk….awesome!
      Tom

  2. if they continue to hunt your yard you will catch the size difference at a glance

    raptors are difficult to identify…you might try crossley’s raptors guide or one liguori’s guides

    the sharp shins often hover over its target

    coopers will actually chase prey on the ground and through trees, vines and thickets

    I find the coopers to be more tolerant of a closer approach
    just don’t walk directly at them unless you intend to get the infamous “butt shot”

    barcalounger photography…using your house as a giant blind can yield some amazing shots

    1. Hi Craig,
      Thanks very much for sharing your experience – much appreciated! Yesterday the Coopers Hawk did return, and as you mentioned in your comment, I observed it hunting in our neighbour’s yard at the bottom of some cedar hedges. I also spotted what appeared to be a sharp shin hovering over a field yesterday as I was driving. Thanks as well for your suggestion on reference materials!
      Tom

  3. Hi Thomas,
    Yes, the first, larger bird is a subadult Cooper’s Hawk. The “falcon” is actually an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk, closely related to the Cooper’s Hawk, and not a falcon, although the same size as a merlin.

    1. Hi Glen,
      Thanks for the clarification – I wasn’t sure about the Merlin vs. Sharp-shinned Hawk…I looked at a lot of pics of each and found it hard to decide. The Sharp-shinned looked like its tail was more square shaped which is why I guessed it was a Merlin.
      Tom

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