Raptors: Portraits of Birds of Prey

Everything from cute baby chicks to majestic birds of prey, as seen through photographer Traer Scott’s lens.

“Barred owls are homebodies,” writes Traer Scott in her new book Raptors. “Unlike other owls that migrate or have a vast territory, most barred owls will stay within a six-mile area their whole lives.” • This image was taken at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science
“Great horned owl nestlings, like this two-week-old chick (detail, shown here), are still covered with down but will begin growing their primary feathers at three weeks old,” writes Traer Scott in Raptors. “The grip of a great horned owl is immensely powerful: when clenched, its talons require a force of 28 pounds to open.” This image was taken at Born To Be Wild.
“With a wingspan of more than seven feet,” writes Scott, “the golden eagle has been clocked in aerial dives at two hundred miles per hour. The golden eagle also performs a territorial display and courtship ritual called ‘skydancing,’ where the bird executes a very rapid series of pendulum-like steep dives and upward swoops. Golden eagle couples often engage in aerial play, where one flies up with a stick or other object and then drops it for the other to catch.” This image was taken at the Carolina Raptor Center.
Of this goshawk that Scott photographed at the Carolina Raptor Center, she says, “She was fierce. She squawked at us non-stop for more than an hour. Owls will occasionally hoot at you if they’re irritated or if they want a mouse, but never have any of them been just as relentlessly vocal as the goshawk was. I think ‘psychologically complicated’ is probably a good way to describe them. We had her flying from her falconer’s hand to her perch and back again. She may have been trying to say, ‘This is weird! What are we doing! What are we doing? I’m going to do it, but I’m going to complain about it!’ ” This image was taken at the Carolina Raptor Center.
“Kestrels are renowned raptor aerialists,” writes Traer Scott in the book’s introduction. “A kestrel is a type of falcon that is able to hover in midair. This feat is achieved by beating its wings back and forth extremely fast, much like a tiny hummingbird.” This image was taken at Horizon Wings.
The lesser yellow-headed vulture (shown here) “unlike most birds, has a very keen sense of smell and can detect the scent of carrion. King vultures lack this olfactory talent and often follow the lesser yellow-headed vulture to find carcasses,” writes Scott. “Once there, however, the king vulture takes the lead and uses its superior beak to tear open the food. Through this mutual dependence, both species thrive.” This image was taken at the Carolina Raptor Center.

In 1920, Orville Wright was asked to explain how he and his brother Wilbur became interested in the problems of flight. “In the spring of the year 1899 our interest in the subject was…aroused through the reading of a book on ornithology,” he replied. “We could not understand that there was anything about a bird that could enable it to fly that could not be built on a larger scale and used by man.” Throughout his life, Orville recorded bird sightings in his diary; a buzzard soaring, an eagle rising higher and higher. To celebrate birds as an inspiration to aviators everywhere, we offer a slideshow of exceptional images from Traer Scott’s new book, Raptors: Portraits of Birds of Prey (Princeton Architectural Press, 2017).

The project was shot over a period of about six years, beginning in 2011 with a visit to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee. There Scott photographed a red-tailed hawk, a kestrel, and a great horned owl, among others. But her interest in raptors dates back to childhood, when her family served as amateur rehabilitators to a screech-owl with an injured wing. “We fed her live, unconscious mice,” Scott writes in the book’s introduction, “which she swallowed whole, usually pausing with the poor creature’s tail hanging out of the side of her mouth like a postmeal cigarette.”

Interested in photography since she was six, Scott took her first darkroom class at the age of 10, she told us in an interview. And she’s always had a deep love of animals: “They’ve been probably my biggest passion for as long as I can remember,” she says. But it wasn’t until her first book, Shelter Dogs, that the two interests came together. For this book, her eighth, Scott worked with five raptor rehabilitation centers to complete the book, which features 25 different bird species—and 70 color photographs.

While Scott was drawn to the owls (“You just can’t be around an owl and not be happy,” she says), she was most surprised by the vultures. “The vultures were so charming,” she says. “They’re funny, smart, interesting birds that have a great deal of character.” While photographing vultures at the Carolina Raptor Center, Scott and the keepers took the vultures for a walk. “They would just waddle along with us in the woods and follow like dogs,” says Scott. The birds are extremely intelligent; during the photo shoot, the vultures appeared to be terrified of the light cords and refused to step over them onto the background set up for the shoot. The staff believed, says Scott, that the birds thought the cords were snakes. “Vultures are extremely intelligent and, perhaps because of that, are more aware and fearful of potential dangers than other birds,” she says. (The backdrop was soon abandoned and Scott photographed the vultures where they felt most comfortable.)

To see more portraits from the book, click on the slideshow, above. Photographs and text excerpts are reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All © Traer Scott from Raptors: Portraits of Birds of Prey © 2017 Princeton Architectural Press.

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