A red-shouldered hawk flies through the air.
A red-shouldered hawk flies through the air. Credit: Courtesy / Michael Farquhar

It isn’t easy at first glance to distinguish between red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, especially when you are in a moving vehicle and a soaring bird of prey catches your eye.

Both noble birds are native to San Antonio and Texas. Sightings have become far more frequent since the completion of the San Antonio River Improvements Project and the creation of Hardberger Park.

The nature photography of Michael Farquhar offers an intimate view of a mating pair of red-shouldered hawks who call Hardberger Park home and, soon enough, should be raising young chicks in the nest and increasing the native population.

Farquhar’s photography makes it easier to distinguish between the two species. The red-tailed hawk is bigger, with a wider wingspan, reddish upper tail, and whiter underside with a black belly band. Red-tails have a broader body and a more pronounced breast.

Red-shouldered hawks, seen in this series of photos, are rustier on the underside and are smaller. The tail and wing feathers are banded black and white.

I first met Farquhar in 2011 when he was working as the controller for Weston Properties, owned by Rackspace Co-Founder and then-Chairman Graham Weston. Monika Maeckle, my wife, and I had set up office in the Weston Centre, readying the launch of the Rivard Report. Weston was our first financial supporter, digital guru, and good friend.

While we met Farquhar to transact business, it was impossible not to notice that he always carried a professional camera and lens ensemble equal to the gear used by professional photojournalists. How often do you meet an an accountant armed with a pair of camera bodies, one with a  100-400 mm zoom lens?

I happened across Farquhar, who retired in 2016, during a recent visit to Hardberger Park to hand out Fiesta medals to Rivard Report donors and members. He practically lives in the park, and his accumulated work celebrating urban nature could fill a book. When I saw the photos he had just captured of the mating hawk pair, I asked if we could publish them.

Click through the gallery below.

Since completion of the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, I have twice spotted a pair of bald eagles winging their way north along the river. Where they nest still eludes me, and I have not spotted them in a while. A more frequent sight is a pair of red-tailed hawks often seen soaring above Blue Star or the future EPICenter, where they often perch atop the emission towers of the former CPS Energy plant. Their nest, or one of them, can be seen in one of the trees across the river from the Blue Star.

Farquhar does not maintain a public website, which is unfortunate. More people deserve to appreciate his work. This is the first time Farquhar’s work has appeared on the Rivard Report. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.