Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   




Capturing Hawks With a Pencil 

Five questions with biologist/illustrator Craig Farquhar about his upcoming raptor book.

Raptors rule the skies. These regal high-fliers captivate us with their beauty, hunting skill and aerial acrobatics. Raptors — birds such as eagles, hawks, owls, kites and falcons — can be identified by distinctive features such as sharp talons, keen eyesight and strong, curved beaks.

Raptor experts C. Craig Farquhar and Clint W. Boal have written the first comprehensive volume on these birds of prey in Texas, Raptors of Texas, slated for publication this year by Texas A&M Press. Farquhar, who created the pencil illustrations for the book, spent more than 20 years as an avian ecologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  

What can you tell us about the book?  

This is a thorough natural history treatment of all our 38 Texas raptor species — 29 regularly occurring species and nine “accidentals.” We try to give as much information as we can on all of them. We have introductory chapters on topics such as taxonomy, behavior, ecology, migration, conservation and climate change. The 29 regularly occurring species get their own chapters with descriptions (plumage, dimensions, behavior, diet and appearance), photos, illustrations and range maps. For the range maps, we superimposed the bird’s distribution of occurrence on top of recent ecoregion maps of Texas. This may be the first natural history book to do range maps like that.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

Texas has more raptor species than any other state in the nation. Our purpose is to share our fascination with these birds and heighten people’s awareness. Most people who are familiar with raptors are struck by their awesomeness and majesty, and many of them are drawn to learn more. We also want to introduce raptors to people who aren’t familiar with them. We want more people in the community of raptor lovers, which by extension gets people involved in the natural world and broader conservation issues.  

Where can you see raptors in Texas?

There are raptors everywhere in Texas. The greatest numbers you’ll see are during fall migration. There are some world-famous hawk-watching spots on the Texas Coastal Bend where you can see thousands or hundreds of thousands of raptors moving through. That’s a spectacle. The bald eagles on the Highland Lakes and other large reservoirs in winter are also big draw, plus Texas has its own growing population of resident bald eagles. If you go outside and look at the sky for a while, you’ll see raptors. I tell people to keep your “eyes to the skies.”

Why are raptors important? 

Raptors are important because they are top predators in very intricate food webs. When top predators are disturbed or removed, there’s a cascade of effects that unsettles the system, so they are barometers of ecosystem health. If raptors were eliminated, pests like certain rodents would easily expand.

How’d you do the illustrations?  

The illustrations are hand drawn on paper with graphite pencil. I know all these birds very well. I know what they look like. From years of observation, I have a sense of their personalities, too, and that’s a layer I wanted to show in these drawings — something about their character. I want people to look at the drawings and think: These birds have something to say. Each of the 29 species drawings took 15 to 20 hours to complete. There aren’t a lot of modern natural history books that feature black-and-white art like this. I hope it’s a selling point.


 TPWD Staff  C. Craig Farquhar. top: Ferruginous hawk; bottom: Harris's hawk

back to top ^

» Like this story? If you enjoy reading articles like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.


Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine 
Sign up for email updates
Sign up for email updates