Red-Tailed Hawk

One of the three species known as the “chickenhawk,” the Red-Tailed Hawk is to be found throughout North America, all the way from Alaska to Panama and the West Indies.

It’s a fantastic creature that’s adaptable to a vast range of habitats – from dry, sandy deserts to lush, dense forests. 

In this article you’re going to learn everything there is to it about the Red-Tailed Hawk

So without further ado,

Let’s get right into it!

What Does a Red-Tailed Hawk Look Like?

The Red-Tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawks in North America.

As the name implies, these birds have a deep red, brownish tinge on their tails.

And they have short but wide tails.

But the deep red color on the tail usually develops once the hawk matures.

Most Red-Tailed Hawk have dark brown heads, but they have a range of colors varying from deep browns to mottled reds.

Red-Tailed Hawks have long, broad wings, and the inner underwings always have a dark band called the patagial markings.

The patagium is a dark shade of skin extending from the head to the wrist in the bird’s inner wings.

It is usually a mark that helps bird lovers identify Red-Tailed hawks from other hawks.

How Big Is a Red-Tailed Hawk?

Red-tails are noted as being one of the largest members of the genus Buteo, coming from the species Buteo Jamaicensis.

As with most predatory birds, the female red-tailed hawk is nearly one-third larger than the male.

The average male red-tail is about 105 – 135 cm in wingspan and 45 – 65 cm in length.

How Much Does a Red-Tailed Hawk Weigh?

It’s difficult to miss a red-tail when you see one.

You see, red-tails are fairly broad, well-rounded, and very distinguishable by their mottled red, brown color.

But if you can’t make one out by its color, its patagial markings will help you pin down its species.

Not to mention, the bird weighs around 690 – 1600 g (1.5 – 3.5 pounds). And that’s a formidable size for a hawk.

What Does a Red-Tailed Hawk Sound Like?

You might be surprised to learn that the red-tailed hawk isn’t a very vocal bird.

But, when a red-tail wants to make its presence known, it’s a sound hard to ignore.

Usually, the young have higher pitched, shrill calls, but the sound isn’t one that carries.

You wouldn’t tag the sound of a young red-tail as a screech – it’s more of a squeal. 

Some ornithologists claim that the call of a young red-tail is a series of two-note whistles.

The first note is high, and the second note is higher, making sounds like wee EEE, wee EEE.

Most often, the young only cry for their parents when hungry or in need of urgent help.

The one time you will hear the red-tail make noise is during the mating season.

It makes a screeching, raspy sound. The decibels recorded from a red-tail screech ranges around 75 – 80 decibels, lasting for 2 – 3 seconds.  

Adults make a sound more like a kee-eeee-arr during flight.

But during courtship, these creatures revert to a screeching, shrill chwirk which is repeated multiple times in a row.

What Does a Red-Tailed Hawk Eat?

Naturally, the red-tail is a carnivore but, its diet varies according to season and location.

In short, you could call the red-tailed hawk an opportunistic carnivore.

So, the meal of a red-tail includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. 

They often prefer to go for the eat target such as rabbits, voles, groundhogs, rats, and squirrels.

When the easy hunt is hard to find, the red-tail will go for the pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds.

The red tail isn’t a hawk that makes a kill for the thrill. 

These birds of prey are more like sit-and-wait on a high perch until they see what they want to eat and then go in for the kill.

Also, red-tail won’t shy away from munching on a random amphibian such as a lizard or frog.

And, when they can’t find their favorite foods, they’ll sometimes look into nests to chomp on the babies of smaller birds. 

Another astounding fact about Red-Tailed Hawks is that these birds are masters at stealing prey from other predators.

And they resort to eating carrion when food is scarce.

Where Can I See a Red-Tailed Hawk?

The red-tail isn’t a rare sighting.

You will see these phenomenal birds perched atop high skyscrapers, on lone mountains, flying through deserts and grasslands, or habitating in tropical rainforests.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is pretty common in North America. 

The population of red-tails has been on the rise since the mid to late 20th Century.

According to statistics, there are over 2 million red-tails in North America.

Signs And Spotting Tips

While these predators are found all over the North American continent, including Central America and the Caribbean, red-tails tend to migrate only from the north during autumn.

These birds aren’t hard to spot as you will find them in a whole range of areas – altitudes and habitats. 

The Red-tail Hawk seems to prefer open woodland and open terrain and woodland edges.

However, you can just as easily find them in agricultural fields, coniferous and deciduous forests, prairies, meadows, and urban areas. 

But, if you’re really keen on catching sight of one, it’s best to head for open spaces like corn fields or forests.

Keeping your eyes set up at the sky or at least above fence posts is sure going to get you a glimpse of the beautiful creature you want to view.

Most bird lovers vouch that the best time to get a look at red-tails is during winters when the red-tails from the north fly south.

How Does a Red-Tailed Hawk Breed?

These hawks are only able to breed when they are three years old.

The mating season for these birds begins in March and lasts till May.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect about red tails is that they mate for life.

During courting season, the male and female soar and circle one another during hunts.

You may even witness the male and female glide around each other, fold their wings, and plummet to treetops.

These birds are reputed for displaying elaborate aerial courtship displays.

The same nest is used year after year, and the female only lays two to three eggs.

The female incubates the eggs for 30 days. It is the male who gets the female food during incubation.

The male and female both care for the young until it is ready to fly away.

How Long Do Red-Tailed Hawks Live?

In the wild, red tails live up to 10 – 15 years.

There have been cases of red-tailed hawks that have lived for over 30 years.

Yet, ornithologists claim that Red-Tailed Hawks do much better in captivity than in the wild.

With proper care and diet, Red-Tailed Hawks can live over 20 years in captivity.   

Do Red-Tailed Hawks Migrate?

Yes, some red-tails do migrate. But not all Red-Tailed Hawks migrate.

Even the ones that do move from one place to another to avoid the cold, harsh season of the north only travel about 1500 km. 

Those species of red tails living closer to Canada or the north USA tend to migrate to Central America or the West Indies. 

How Common Are Red-Tailed Hawks In The UK?

Red-Tailed Hawks are one of the most popular birds for falconry.

So, while these hawks are native to North America, you may find quite a few in the UK too.

However, most red tails in the UK live in captivity.

A close relative of the redtails in the UK that is native to the land is known as the Common Buzzard.

These birds became quite famous in ancient times due to the sport of falconry that was practiced by the rich nobility.

What Is a Group Of Red-Tailed Hawks Called?

Speaking of hawks, a group of them circling together during flight is known as a “kettle.”

However, when you talk specifically of Red-Tailed Hawks, a group of them are known as “buteos,” also known as ‘soaring hawks.’

Do Red-Tailed Hawks Mate For Life?

It is common among many species of hawks to mate for life.

Hawks tend to be solitary creatures, but during the mating season, hawks mate with their previous partners.

The red hawk is no exception.

Rather these birds take the meaning of ‘partners for life’ to a whole new level.

Yes, Red Tails are monogamous, simply meaning that these birds of prey mate for life.

They choose a mate and stick to their mates.

They even hold their territories together.

Often use the same nest for incubation rather than build a new home for their eggs each year.

The only time a red tail will look for a new mate is when its previous mate is dead. 

How Fast Can a Red-Tailed Hawk Fly?

Red-Tailed Hawks are well-known for their ‘kiting’ ability.

The skillful red tail can use the air current to stay in place while barely moving its wings.

Most hawks and falcons can be adept at this particular capacity, but the red-tails stand out for their proficiency and dexterity at kiting. 

And, while the Peregrine Falcon is known for its speed. Red-tails are relatively fast, too, reaching up to 20 – 40 MPH.

Their diving speed has been measured at 120 MPH.

At leisure, they cruise in the air at 50 MPH.

Similar Birds To a Red-Tailed Hawk

There are quite a few birds of prey that are very closely related to the Red-Tailed Hawk.

Namely, you can take a look at the following:

Red Shouldered Hawk

Belonging to the Buteo Lineatus, the Red Shouldered Hawks are medium-sized predatory birds that can literally be described as the cousin of the Red-Tailed Hawk.

Apart from the slight difference in color and pattern found on the wings and tail, the Red-Shouldered Hawk prefers to be around closed canopies of dense forests.

They prefer to be near large water sources. 

Swainson’s Hawk

The Swainson’s Hawk is much the same in its plumage color as the Red-Tailed Hawk.

The Swainson’s Hawk enjoys open grounds and spaces to spot and target their prey.

But, these creatures come from the Buteo Swainsoni genus of Hawk species.

The one thing that really makes the Swainson’s Hawk different from Red Tails is the fact that these birds love to munch on insects like grasshoppers and locusts.

Also, Swainson’s hawks love to gather around during their annual migration period.

Ornithologists claim that over 1000 Swainson’s have been found roosting together in Argentina.

The Swainson’s hawk is nothing if not a large-sized bird reaching from 18.9 – 22 inches in length, unlike the red tails.

Ferruginous Hawk

One of the biggest hawks, the Ferruginous, gets its name for its mottled red and brown shades of feather colors.

It may look much like a red tail from afar, but when the Ferruginous hawk gets close, its size gives it away. 

Ferruginous Hawks inhabit arid and semi-arid grasslands.

Unlike redtails, they belong to the Buteo Regalis species.

The spectacular birds have the widest wingspan in hawks, reaching up to 53 – 56 inches.

The Ferruginous Hawk will devour anything from a small-sized to a medium-sized mammal, and they love the hunt as much as they enjoy the kill.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus) are phenomenal creatures that shy away from human habitations.

You will find the Broad-Winged Hawk in North America, closer to British Columbia and Texas.

However, these birds of prey tend to migrate to the south in winter near Mexico and southern Brazil.

In all, there are about 27 species that fall into the genus Buteo.

Some of these species share more in common with the Red-Tailed Hawk than just their plumage.

Yet, viewing a red tail during an aerial courtship display or going for a kill is quite an experience. 

Wrapping Up

Red-Tailed Hawks are incredible animals that aren’t just reputed for their looks but also their mastery of kiting and killing techniques.

Fortunately, it is also one of the few species of hawks that seems to be doing well in the wild and captivity.

Moreover, these birds’ most remarkable capacity is their knack for adapting to different habitats and surroundings.

Viewing one from far or having the privilege of keeping one is truly a dream come true for many bird lovers.


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