Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Aves

Order:  Accipitriformes

Family:  Accipitridae

Genus:  Buteo

Species:  jamaicensis

Status

Red-tailed hawks are very common.  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not reference this species.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern.

Description

Juvenile red-tailed hawks are relatively white colored with dark barring and spotting.  Their eyes are a dull yellow.  The tail does not become the notable red color until the fall of their second year.  Broad wings assist this bird in soaring on thermals.  Adult red-tailed hawks are brown above with a lighter underside with light barring or streaking.  The beak is blue-black and the eyes are brown.  There are three color variations in the western portions of the red-tailed hawk’s range.  First is the light phase which is darker above, more sandy-colored below, and has more distinct barring on the underside and legs.  Second, the red phase red-tailed hawks are darker below than the basic description already provided.  Third, dark phase red-tailed hawks are a dark brown above and below.  The red and dark phase red-tailed hawks may have dark barring on their tails.  Red-tailed hawks range from 17-25 inches in height, and weigh a little more than 1000 grams on average.  An adult’s wingspan is approximately 4 feet.

Habitat and Range

Red-tailed hawks are found throughout North America inhabiting plains, deserts, mountains, and wooded areas.

Diet

Red-tailed hawks commonly hunt small ground animals such as rabbits, snakes, and squirrels.  They often hunt when riding thermals or will sit on a high perch monitoring an open field.  Once they spot their prey, they fly in low with their talons outstretched and grab the prey.

Reproduction

Generally red-tails are serially monogamous but may be polygynous (one male mating with multiple females) if the conditions are right.  Male red-tailed hawks begin establishing a breeding territory in February or March.  As time progresses, the male becomes more aggressive in defending this territory.  Once the female joins the male, they begin frequent courtship flights wherein the two fly high into the sky, closely following each other’s flight paths.  One will then drop into a nose dive and pull sharply up back into the sky, creating a deep V.  Both the male and female will then contribute to building the nest.  They often will re-use a nesting area annually.  Nests are normally created in the tallest trees available.  First the male provides large twigs wedged into notches of the tree, creating the platform for the nest.  As the nest grows, the female spends more time in the nest testing stability.  2-4 eggs are laid near the end of March and are brooded for approximately 34 days.

Behavior

Red-tailed hawks in mountainous regions will move to lower elevations during the winter where melting snow floods fields and entices rodents.  Birds in the northern areas of the red-tailed hawk’s range will migrate south for the winter.

Wow!

  • Red-tailed hawks may live 16 years in the wild and 21 years in captivity.  The oldest known red-tailed hawks lived to be 21.5 years old in the wild and 29.5 years old in captivity.
  • Great horned owls may prey upon adult red-tailed hawks.