Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis

adult, Eastern
Tom Vezo/VIREO
adult, Southwestern (Fuertes' Hawk)
Sid & Shirley Rucker/VIREO
adult (Harlan's Hawk)
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult (Krider's Hawk)
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
adult, Western, dark morph
Greg Lasley/VIREO
juvenile, Eastern
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult, Western, dark morph
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult, Western, light morph
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Lloyd Spitalnik/VIREO
adult, Western, dark morph
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult, Western, light morph
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult, Western, light morph
Blake Shaw/VIREO
adult, Western, dark intermediate morph
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
adult (light Harlan's Hawk)
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile, Eastern
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult with nestlings, Western, dark morph
John Cancalosi/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult (Harlan's Hawk)
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Description

This is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America, bulky and broad-winged, designed for effortless soaring. An inhabitant of open country, it is commonly seen perched on roadside poles or sailing over fields and woods. Although adults usually can be recognized by the trademark reddish-brown tail, the rest of their plumage can be quite variable, especially west of the Mississippi: Western Red-tails can range from blackish to rufous-brown to nearly white.

Habitat

Open country, woodlands, prairie groves, mountains, plains, roadsides. Found in any kind of terrain that provides both some open ground for hunting and some high perches. Habitats may include everything from woodland with scattered clearings to open grassland or desert with a few trees or utility poles.

Feeding Diet

Varied, includes small mammals, birds, reptiles. Diet varies with location and season. Mammals such as voles, rats, rabbits, and ground squirrels often major prey; also eats many birds (up to size of pheasant) and reptiles, especially snakes. Sometimes eats bats, frogs, toads, insects, various other creatures; may feed on carrion.

Feeding Behavior

Does most hunting by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to capture prey in its talons. Also hunts by flying over fields, watching for prey below. Small prey carried to perch, large prey often partly eaten on ground.

Nesting

In courtship, male and female soar in high circles, with shrill cries. Male may fly high and then dive repeatedly in spectacular maneuvers; may catch prey and pass it to female in flight. Nest site is variable. Usually in tree, up to 120' above ground; nest tree often taller than surrounding trees. Also nests on cliff ledges, among arms of giant cactus, or on artificial structures such as towers or buildings. Nest (built by both sexes) a bulky bowl of sticks, lined with finer materials, often with leafy green branches added. Eggs: 2-3, sometimes 4, rarely 1-5. Whitish, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 28-35 days. Young: Female remains with young most of the time during first few weeks. Male brings most food, and female tears it into small pieces to feed to the young. After about 4-5 weeks, food is dropped in nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young leave the nest about 6-7 weeks after hatching, but not capable of strong flight for another 2 weeks or more. Fledglings may remain with parents for several more weeks.

Eggs

2-3, sometimes 4, rarely 1-5. Whitish, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 28-35 days. Young: Female remains with young most of the time during first few weeks. Male brings most food, and female tears it into small pieces to feed to the young. After about 4-5 weeks, food is dropped in nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young leave the nest about 6-7 weeks after hatching, but not capable of strong flight for another 2 weeks or more. Fledglings may remain with parents for several more weeks.

Young

Female remains with young most of the time during first few weeks. Male brings most food, and female tears it into small pieces to feed to the young. After about 4-5 weeks, food is dropped in nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young leave the nest about 6-7 weeks after hatching, but not capable of strong flight for another 2 weeks or more. Fledglings may remain with parents for several more weeks.

Conservation

Widespread and common. Apparently has increased in some areas since the 1960s, and numbers now stable or still increasing. In several regions of North America, Red-tailed Hawks are adapting to nesting in cities.

Range

Northern Red-tails may migrate far to the south, while many at central or southern latitudes (especially adults) are permanent residents. Most migration is relatively late in fall and early in spring.

Listen

typical calls #1
juvenile squeals #2
typical calls #2
juvenile squeals #1

Similar Species

adult male, dark morph

Rough-legged Hawk

Of our soaring Buteo hawks, this is the only one tied to cold climates. It nests in the Arctic, mostly in tundra regions north of the boreal forest; in winter, only a few move farther south than the central United States. Its breeding success on the tundra is often dictated by the population cycles of lemmings, which may provide most of the food for the young. The name "Rough-legged" refers to the feathering that extends down the legs to the base of the toes -- a helpful adaptation for staying warm in frigid weather.

adult, Florida

Red-shouldered Hawk

A hawk of the woodlands, often heard before it is seen. The clear whistled calls of this hawk are conspicuous, especially in spring; in the east, Blue Jays often give a near-perfect imitation of this call. Over much of eastern North America the Red-shoulder has become uncommon, sticking closely to the remaining forests. Populations in Florida and California are often more visible, perhaps adapting better to open habitats.

adult, light morph

Ferruginous Hawk

This regal bird is the largest of our soaring Buteo hawks, a fitting raptor for the wide skies and windswept plains of the west. It soars with its broad wings held in a shallow V, and swoops down to catch ground squirrels, snakes, young jackrabbits, and other good-sized prey. It is often seen sitting on the ground in open fields. Except when nesting, the Ferruginous Hawk seems curiously unafraid of humans, often allowing close approach.

adult, light morph

Swainson's Hawk

This slim and graceful hawk is a common sight over grasslands of the Great Plains and the west, but only in summer: every autumn, most individuals migrate to southern South America. Although Swainson's Hawk is big enough to prey on rodents, snakes, and birds (and does so, while it is raising young), at most seasons it feeds heavily on large insects instead. Flocks are often seen sitting on the ground in fields where there are many grasshoppers or caterpillars.

adult

White-tailed Hawk

A hawk of tropical grasslands and savannahs, the White-tail is fairly common in places on the coastal prairie of Texas. It is a rather bulky bird, with noticeably broad wings and short tail, and it soars with the wings held in a shallow "V." Although it seems particular in its choice of habitat, it is a generalized feeder, preying on a wide variety of small animals.

Vireo

iPad Promo