One of the most common species of Hawks in North America is the Red-Tailed Hawk. You may see it perched on a tree or telephone pole along the roadside. It’s also common to see them soaring above open fields and marshes.
No matter where you see them, they are always on the lookout for prey. But what else is known about these great creatures?
Here are 11 fascinating facts about the Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis) that you might not know.
1. Identifying Characteristics
The Red-Tailed hawk is a large bird of prey, weighing between two to four pounds (about 1-2 kilos). The interesting part is the variation of plumage. From young, immature stages to adult, their undersides are primarily light-colored with streaked belly.
Young hawks’ tails are brown with dark terminal bars. The Rufous – red tail – doesn’t appear until the second year. Adults may or may not have a dark terminal bar on their tail.
There are 14 subspecies that vary in appearance by range and is most evident in color variation. A polymorphic hawk, it can appear almost all white to nearly all black. The females, like many birds of prey, are larger than males, averaging about 25% larger and heavier.
Wingspan ranges from 3.5 feet to 5 feet – just shy of one meter to over one meter in length.
Red-Tail in backyard during fall
Red-Tail plumage variation
Being the most common hawk in the Buteo genus in North America, Red-tailed hawks have a large range. They can be found throughout the US, Mexico, Central America and parts of the Carribean, including Puerto Rico, Panama and West Indies. They breed in northern US and throughout most of Canada. They will stay in the same general area their entire life, anywhere from two miles to ten square miles.
Red-Tailed Hawk about to perch on telephone pole
Red-tailed Hawks have extended their range over the last century. There are about two million nesting hawks in North America and Red-Tailed Hawks account for 90% of them.
A commmon nickname for this hawk, or Raptor, is “Red-Tail”. Although they do not hunt chickens, they are one of three species also referred to as a “Chickenhawk”. (Cooper’s Hawk and Shar-Shinned Hawk are the others.) The use of the Chickenhawk name is used in rural farm areas because of their perceived threat to small livestock animals.
The most famous Chickenhawk was made popular in the Looney Tunes cartoon series, known as Foghorn Leghorn.
Not so big and tuff!
Red-tailed hawks are opportunists – they’ll take what they can get. Most of their diet consists of small rodents that are commonly found in fields. Mice, voles, small ground squirrels, rabbits, crabs, lizards and birds make up their food source, depending on their range.
Sometimes they will hunt in pairs, blocking escape routes of their prey. They will also eat snakes, including Bull Snakes and Rattlesnakes!
They hunt during the day, which is why you may see them more often than other species. They are most active in the early morning or afternoon – they do not fly or hunt at night. They are fierce fliers, reaching up to 120 miles per hour when diving for prey!
The Red-Tailed Hawk can soar up to 120 miles per hour hunting for prey
The fierce, screaming cry of the red-tailed hawk is a popular one. It is commonly used to depict many birds of prey, such as the Bald Eagle, in movies and media. In general, the cry of the red-tail is a two to three second raspy scream that begins at a high pitch and slurs downward, similar to a steam whistle.
Like many Raptors and Birds of Prey, the Red-Tailed Hawk puts on an amazing courtship display. They will soar together in circles, sometimes locking talons, and plummet towards the ground before breaking apart. As monogamous birds, they mate for life. They will only look for another mate if the other dies.
Red-tailed hawks typically begin breeding in their third year. They build large stick nests 30-40 inches wide and up to three feet tall; about a meter wide and 1/2 meter tall. Nests are built at the top of deciduous trees near the edge of woods. They will also use billboards, cliff ledges and other high locations, providing vast access to the landscape beneath them.
Hunt is on!
Red-tailed Hawk departs perch
Laying the first eggs is greatly dependent on the climate. In most of the United States, egg laying commences in early April, when anywhere from one to five eggs are laid every other day.
Both parents will take turns incubating the eggs. The male will hunt for food during the month-long incubation period. In about 45 days, the young will begin to fledge, although they will typically stay near the parent for two months as they learn how to surive on their own.
Although they are the most common hawks in North America, many die before two years old. The oldest known hawk lived to be 30 years old, from Michigan. It was banded in 1981 and died in 2011.
Red-tailed hawk soaring through blue sky
The Great Horned Owl is the main predator and it is hassled by Crows. Since it is common along roadsides, vehicular collisions account for many deaths.
The Red-Tailed Hawk is a common Bird of Prey that may be seen while you are out driving, either soaring above fields or perched in trees or a top telephone poles. One thing is for sure – they’re looking for their next meal! Hope you enjoyed learning about the Red-Tailed Hawk!