Photo by Irene Greenberg

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Ruby, TRC's Resident Red-tailed Hawk, by Alan Sund

Ruby, TRC's Resident Red-tailed Hawk, by Alan Sund

Fun Fact

The screeching call made by Red-tailed Hawks is dubbed over flying eagles in Hollywood films to make them sound more impressive.

Etymology

Jamaicensis is for "Jamaica" where the first specimen was collected.

Conservation Status

IUCN Least Concern

Lifespan

13-20 years in the wild.

Identification

Red-tailed hawks are known for their brick-colored tails, but there are 14 subspecies of various colorations, and not all of them have the characteristic red tails. Red-tailed Hawks come in a variety of color phases. Dark phases, such as TRC Resident Raptor, Ruby (pictured) are more common in the western US while light phases are more common in the eastern US. They can often be seen sitting on telephone posts near roads.

Length

17.7-25.6 in (45-65 cm)

Wingspan

44.9–52.4 in (114–133 cm)

Weight

24.3–51.5 oz (690– 1460 g)

Distribution

Red-tailed Hawk populations can be residential or short-distance migrants. Most birds from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains fly south for a few months in winter, remaining in North America. Birds across the rest of the continent typically stay put, sharing the countryside with northern arrivals. (Range map below)

Dr. Heather Carleton releases a Red-tailed Hawk rehabilitated at TRC

Dr. Heather Carleton releases a Red-tailed Hawk rehabilitated at TRC

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks typically inhabit open areas interspersed with patches of trees or structurally similar features. Red-tailed Hawks occupy just about every type of open habitat on the continent. This includes desert, scrublands, grasslands, roadsides, fields and pastures, parks, urban environments, broken woodland, and (in Mexico) tropical rainforest.

Prey

Mammals make up the bulk of Red-tailed Hawk meals. Frequent victims include voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. These hawks also eat birds, including pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds; as well as snakes and carrion. Individual prey items can weigh anywhere from less than an ounce to more than 5 pounds.

Behavior

Red-tailed Hawks hunt in a slow descent from a perch with legs outstretched. For most of the year, Red-tailed Hawks are solitary, only pairing up during the spring and summer months to mate and care for offspring.

Breeding

Red-tailed Hawks typically lay a clutch of 1-5 eggs and incubate for 28–35 days.The nestling hawks are in the nest for about 44 days. Both the male and female build the nest and often reuse the same nest year after year. Nests are built in the crowns of tall trees where they have a complete view of their surroundings. They may also nest on a cliff ledge or artificial structure. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks that can become quite large, sometimes reaching 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across. The nest is lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation. Construction takes 4-7 days.

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Citation

InfoNatura: Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America [web application]. 2007. Version 5.0 . Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: October 24, 2012 ).

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