Red-tailed Hawk

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Photo by: Patrick Connolly      Photo by: Miles Away Photography

Species: Red-tailed hawk

Scientific name:Buteo jamaicensis

Status: common, migratory

Description: The red-tailed hawk is a large soaring hawk with broad wings, short but wide tail, and hooked beak. These hawks range in colour from a dark brown to pale brown. They have a distinctive belly band, yellow feet, dark beak, piercing eyes, and dark bars on the underside of their wings, bright red tail (but appear lighter from below).

Habitat: This is the hawk you always see soaring along the highways, perched on signs, or trees. Being a soaring hawk, it prefers open habitats including scrublands, grassland, roadsides, fields, pastures, parks, and even small open spaces near human habitation. This hawk likes to perch up in a tree, or on a pole, which gives them the best spot to watch for ground prey.

Breeding: Red-tailed hawks have beautiful courtship rituals, involving amazing acrobatics. These birds are monogamous and will mate for life. A mating pair of hawks will fly in wide circles higher in the air; the male will then dive towards the ground before steeply climbing back into the air to where the female is. The pair will then use their talons to hold each other and spiral towards the ground. Both members will build nests, or will re-use a nest from previous years. Nests are made of sticks and leaves, and can be quite large in size (up to 6.5 m high and 3 feet across). Females will lay 1-5 eggs, and both parents will share in the incubation of the eggs, which lasts 4-5 weeks. Young will be fed by parents and learn how to be a hawk from their parents. Fledglings leave the nest after about 6 weeks.

Diet: This bird is a strict meat eater. Most of their food consists of ground dwelling animals, with mammals making up the majority of their diet. Common prey include voles, rats, rabbits, and squirrels. They will also eat birds such as starlings and pigeons, as well as snakes and carrion (dead animals).

Threats to species: The red-tailed hawk is a top predator. The biggest threat to this bird is humans. These birds commonly hit buildings, are hit by cars (while they are hunting along the side of the road), and are illegally taken from the wild (for falconry purposes).

Threat to humans: This bird poses no threats to humans. As with other hawks, they do poop a lot (every 10 minutes) so the biggest threat is being pooped on.

Fun facts:

The call you see in the movies, usually associated with a bald eagle flying over a canon, is actually the call of a red tailed hawk.

Juvenile red-tailed hawks have striped tails and will not get their distinct red-tail until their 2nd year.

Red-tailed hawks have amazing eyesight, they can spot a mouse form 100 feet away, and can see on a clear day up to 4km away.

Red-tailed hawks have been observed hunting in pairs.


The Cornell lab of Ornithology:

National Geographic:


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