Paul and Joyce Berquist
© 1990 Paul Berquist
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a large, hawk with a brown back, head and throat. The underside of its’ body is creamy colored with brown streaks. The underside of its’ wings are pale with a dark bar at leading edge and dark tips. The tail is red-brown with dark band at the tip. An immature red-tailed hawk does not have a red tail. Their feather color will gradually change over several molts. Their legs and feet are yellow.
A Red-tailed hawk has superb vision. It can see a mouse from 100 feet in the air.
They are found in a variety of habitats, but do prefer open country with suitable areas for perching. They can be found in deserts, grasslands, woodlands, plains and scrubland.
They are found throughout the United States and Canada, and into Mexico and Central America. Most birds are year round residents in their habitat although the birds in the far north will migrate south during the fall to escape the cold winters.
Red-tailed hawks are considered to be a species of least concern. They are common, with populations stable or increasing across North America.
Mammals make up the bulk their diet. This can include mice, wood rats, rabbits, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. They will also eat birds, turtles, toads, snakes and carrion.
Adult red-tailed hawks are large birds with few natural predators. The eggs and nestlings are usually the most vulnerable to predation. Snakes, great horned owls, raccoons, eagles, and fox are a few species that are know to kill these birds.
Red-tailed hawks typically build their nests in the crowns of tall trees, a cliff ledge, crook of a Saguaro cactus arm, or a billboard platform. These locations provide the hawks with a wide view of the surrounding landscape. The nests are piles of dry sticks up to 6 feet high and 3 feet across. The inside of the nest is lined with feathers, fresh plant material, and dry vegetation.
Red-tailed hawks are relatively long-lived birds. The most vulnerable time is when they are nestlings or in their first year on their own. If they make it beyond their second year they can live as long as 21 years in the wild.
The female hawks are larger than the males. Male are usually between 17–22 inches in height and weigh 24.0–46.0 oz. Females are 19 –26 inches in height and weigh 31.0–52.0 oz.
To teach their young to hunt, parents will often drop live prey for their chicks to chase and catch.
They are the most common hawk in North America.