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Red tailed Hawk red-tailed hawk

Identification and Pictures

(Buteo jamaicensis)red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawks are very common North American Buteo hawks.  Like all Buteos they are a very large hawk, about 19 to 25 inches.  They have broad wings with a wing span of around 4 feet and, a short wide tail.  Typical adult plumage is dark brown above with a white chest with brown streaks on the belly, and brown eyes.  They get their name from the most distinguishing feature in adult birds, their brick-red tail.  The females are larger than males.

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.     

red-tailed hawk


Young birds look much similar but the upper chest is more mottled.

There are a number of subspecies of Red-tailed hawks, with much variation in the plumage.  There are all dark, rufous, and very light phases.

The under wings are mottled dark, and light with a dark band on the leading edge, called the patagial markings.


red-tailed hawk


The voice of the Red-tailed hawk is a high pitched descending scream, like kee-eer.  Sound

Preferred Habitat

Red-tailed hawks are found all across North America.  They can be seen in a large variety of habitats.  They like mountains, open woods, prairies, plains, and agricultural areas.  The hawks are often seen perched on a poll on roadsides.  Northern populations may migrate in winter, but most will stay in their territories all year.

Breeding and Nesting

During breeding season they do dramatic flight displays.  They will fly in circles until they are very high, and the male will dive, and then circle back up again.  The two birds will lock talons, and tumble towards the ground in a free fall, letting go just above the ground.  The hawks are monogamous, normally mating for life, and staying in the same territory each year.  They may have more than one nest in their territory, and alternate between them.  Both sexes help build a large nest of sticks, and twigs lined with bark, placed high in a tree or on a cliff.  Throughout the nesting period the nest will have bits of green vegetation added to it.  The female lays 2 to 4 white eggs with brown spots which she will incubate for 4 to 5 weeks.  The parents will both feed the nestlings.  The young birds will be able to fly in around 45 days, and then the parents will teach them to hunt.


Red-tail hawks are good hunters, feeding on small mammals such as rabbits, or other rodents, birds, reptiles, and insects.  They will either soar, or perch on a high branch, or poll to survey the surrounding area with their sharp eyes.  While soaring they may ride motionless on an air current, suddenly fold their wings, an shoot down like a bullet to grab a small bird below.  Hawks have binocular vision, and their incredible sight allows them to see a mouse on the ground while soaring 100 feet up.  When they spot their prey they swoop down on it, there dives can reach over 100 miles an hour.  When they grasp their prey, and clench their toes the talons pierce the vital organs, and cause instant death.

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