Flying lessons

I saw this hawk land on a tree when I was driving back roads at Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area last week.  But even with binoculars I couldn’t really tell what species it was from a distance.

red-tailed hawk

Doing its "head on backwards" pose prior to taking off.

Doing its “head on backwards” pose prior to taking off.

But once the bird took off from the perch and began to soar overhead, I could get a look at its tail, and its ID was obvious.

There is a little hint of red on the tail there.

There is a little hint of red on the tail there.

Backlighting illuminates the red tail, and shows how every secondary feather in the wing overlaps its neighbor to provide a smooth airfoil.

Backlighting illuminates the red tail, and shows how every secondary feather in the wing overlaps its neighbor to provide a smooth airfoil.

Notice how the primary feathers at the tip of the wing are rotated and widely separated from each other.  This rotation reduces the resistance to moving the feathers through the air mass as the wing is raised after the powerful downward thrust.  The smooth plane of the secondaries provides lift and allows the bird to rise in the air column.

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