Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) can be seen all over most of the North American continent searching for food or just having fun playing on the updrafts.
Red-tailed Hawks are generalists. They eat mostly small rodents but also eat some smaller rabbits, snakes, lizards, insects and some birds.
Typical of all Buteos, the Red-tailed Hawk is a master of soaring and takes advantage of thermals and updrafts. In cooler weather, when thermals aren’t available, these birds rely on perch hunting.
Red-tailed Hawks, like eagles and other buteos and falcons, have a boney ridge over the orbit that provides shade for the eyes while in direct sunlight, an adaptation similar to a baseball cap. The protruding brow ridge makes them look angry.
Another adaptation of the eye is the scleral ring. The eyeball is so large that it needs internal support. The eyeballs of these birds actually touch on the mid-line of the skull.
The Red-tailed Hawk is an extremely versatile raptor, it combines the characteristics of soaring and the rapid flight of accipiters (Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk) . Like all Buteos, they are often seen perched on a prominence (rock, fence post or telephone pole) patiently watching for prey.
Red-tailed Hawk Diet
As with all raptors, pellets are regurgitated and food-habits studies are easily carried out.
Red-tailed Hawks eat a wide variety of other animals but mostly rodents. They also eat birds, snakes, lizards, and some insects.
Red-tailed Hawks like most Buteos, do not flap their wings much in flight. To conserve energy they use wind currents, updrafts and thermals to keep them aloft.
Red-tailed Hawks are year round residents in most of the lower continental United States. During summer they can be found in Canada and Alaska as well.
Red-tailed Hawk identification tips:
Adult red-tailed hawks have a brick red tail. Juvenile red-tailed hawks have a grayish brown banded tail and a squarish patch or “wing window” toward the end of the wing.
Red-tailed hawks at all ages have dark patagial marks (the patagium is between the body and wrist on the wing) on the underside of the wings. Red-tailed hawks have quite a number of different coloration or “morphs”.
Red-tailed hawks frequently hunt by “kiting” (also called stilling) in an area where there is prey. They will barely move a wing feather or tail feather to maintain their position. They will occasionally hover for short periods of time.
- Length: 19 inches
- Wingspan: 49 inches
- Weight: Male – 880-1000 grams; female – 1250-1500 grams (2.2 lb to the kilogram)
- Nest: Tree or cliff
- Usually lay 2 or 3 eggs (can be up to 5)
- Incubation: Both parents incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts 30 to 35 days
- Fledge: 45 days