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A photo of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a robust bird of prey, one of the most familiar hawks in North America. This species exhibits a broad range of plumage variations, with 14 recognized subspecies differing in color and range. The Red-tailed Hawk is a large raptor, weighing between 690 to 1,600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds), with a length of 45–65 centimeters (18–26 inches) and a wingspan of 110–141 centimeters (3 feet 7 inches – 4 feet 8 inches). Females are typically about 25% heavier than males. The species is known for its brick-red tail, which gives it its common name.

Identification Tips

Adult Red-tailed Hawks have a rich brown upper body and pale underparts, with a streaked belly and a dark bar between the shoulder and wrist. The tail is usually a rich red color above and pale below, with a black subterminal band. Immature birds have a brown tail with dark bars and may lack the red coloration. The bird's beak is short and dark, and the legs and feet are yellow. In flight, the broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail are characteristic.

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks are highly adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, forests, agricultural fields, and urban areas. They prefer open areas with high perching sites from which they can survey their territory.

Distribution

This species has a vast range, breeding from Alaska and northern Canada down through the United States to Panama and the West Indies. It is absent from the high Arctic and the most densely forested parts of the Amazon.

Behaviour

Red-tailed Hawks are known for their soaring flight, often seen circling high above the ground. They are territorial and can be aggressive, especially during the breeding season. These hawks are solitary hunters but may form pairs or small family groups.

Song & Calls

The Red-tailed Hawk's call is a distinctive, rasping scream, often used in movies as a generic raptor sound effect. They vocalize most frequently during the breeding season, with a variety of calls used for communication between mates and signaling distress.

Breeding

Red-tailed Hawks typically mate for life and build large stick nests in tall trees or on man-made structures. They lay 1 to 3 eggs per clutch, which are incubated primarily by the female for about a month. The young fledge after 6 to 7 weeks but may remain dependent on their parents for several more weeks.

Similar Species

The Red-tailed Hawk can be confused with other Buteo species, but its red tail and dark patagial marks on the leading edge of the wings are distinctive. The Ferruginous Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk are similar in size but have different plumage patterns and habitat preferences.

Diet and Feeding

Red-tailed Hawks are opportunistic feeders with a diet that reflects the diversity of prey available in their range. They primarily hunt small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, but will also take birds, reptiles, and occasionally carrion.

Conservation status

The Red-tailed Hawk is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, with a stable and widespread population. It is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

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Red-tailed Hawk Fun Facts

Did you know?
That the Red-tailed Hawk's call often used for Eagle sounds in cinema.

Red-tailed Hawks on Birda

Sightings

More Kites, Hawks, Eagles

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