Description of the Red-tailed Hawk

BREEDING MALE

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large, widespread, and common Buteo with a brick-red tail as an adult, and wide regional variation in color, from very pale (Krider's Red-tail) to almost black (Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk). Lighter forms have dark streaks on the belly, and dark patagial marks visible in flight on the undersides of the wings.

 

red-tailed hawk

 

 

Female

Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

None.

Juvenile

Juveniles lack the red tail, instead having a barred, brownish or whitish tail.

Note the dark inside leading edge of the wings, a good field mark for Red-tailed Hawks in general. The barring on the tail is obvious in this photo.

Red-tailed Hawk

 

 

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks are very adaptable, occupying prairies, open country, mountains and plains, woodlands, and roadsides.

Diet

Red-tailed Hawks capture and consume small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Behavior

Red-tailed Hawks hunt from a perch such as a fencepost or utility pole, swooping down to capture prey.  They are frequently observed along roadsides.

Range

Red-tailed Hawks are resident throughout most of the U.S. south to Central America. They also breed in large parts of Canada, but populations there move south to the U.S. in winter. The Red-tailed Hawk population has increased in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Red-tailed Hawk.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

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Fun Facts

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most widespread hawk in North America, and also the most variable in plumage.

Males bring most of the food to the nest, while females tear it up and feed the young.

Vocalizations

A hoarse, screamed, prolonged "keeeaaaa".

Nesting

Nests are large stick structures placed in trees or on cliffs, usually quite high.

Number: Usually lay 2-3 eggs.
Color: White with brownish markings.

Incubation and fledging:
Young hatch at about 28-35 days and leave the nest in 42-46 days, but continue to associate with the adults for some time.