Dogfighting Yellow-Billed Kites – Graceful Combat
by John Downey
Just yesterday, I was browsing old shots for a post and was bummed about not having any new photography lately.
Well, given a day off (thank our presidents) and a fantastically-blue canvas backdrop (every afternoon from September to May in Addis Ababa), I was watching these Yellow-billed Kites dogfight right from the living room balcony.
The raptors are common to the Horn of Africa and even more so in our neighborhood. At times, following the end of the rainy season, more than three dozen of the kites jet around our house, snatching hatching insects with needle-like talons, feeding at full velocity. A lot faster than a migrating African swallow with a coconut on a line.
For moments like this, I have the camera armed with a 200mm lens and today, these hawks were slamming into each other less than 20 meters away so I could get a decent view. I was able to make these images at 1/1250sec @ f9. ISO was 800 to get that quick shutter speed. Realize that to capture the action like this, you need to sacrifice a bit of ISO (and overall sharpness by bumping it up about four to six stops) to get the shutter speed and aperture combination to freeze all the details.
After capturing this mid-air grapple, the coming days will feature a post with closer encounters. I’m not much of a birdwatcher, but when you witness events like this, you can’t help but be thrilled.