Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Details About The Red-tailed Hawk

  • General Information

    The Red-tailed Hawk is a typical buteo -- soaring hawks with broad wings and tail. Plumages are highly variable; 4 light-morphs and 3 dark-morph forms are distinguishable. Their wings are distinguished with 4 notched primaries. Field marks for eastern light morph: breast is white, often with rufous wash on upper breast, incomplete dark belly band (highly variable), underwings white with dark patagial marks and dark comma beyond wrist. The adult tail is rufous with a dark terminal band; juvenile tail is light brown with narrow dark bands of equal width. Adults have shorter tails and broader wings than immatures so they will look different in their flight silhouette. Iris color darkens with age. There is a light "V" on the back. Partial albinos are common.

    Latin Name: Buteo jamaicensis
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Accipitridae
    Length: 15-19 inches
    Weight: 1.1-2 pounds
    Wingspan: 37-42 inches
    Common Name: Chicken Hawk
    Etymology: buteo (Latin) - "a kind of hawk"; jamaicensis - indicates where the first specimen was collected

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    Red-tailed Hawks' active flight is with slow, deep wingbeats, and they may soar or glide in a slight dihedral (V-shape). This species can also hover or "kite" on the wind.

    These are birds of both open and wooded areas, particularly wood edges. They will hunt from a high perch with a good view or soar on thermals over open fields.

    Red-tailed Hawks prefer open and wooded areas, particularly wood edges. They will hunt from a high perch with a good view or soar on thermals over open fields.

  • Nesting

    Red-tailed Hawks make their nest of sticks, usually nesting in the top half of tall trees. They will often return to the same territory for many years. They are extremely sensitive to disturbance during nest building and may even abandon the nest. Red-tailed Hawks lay 2-4 eggs every other day. Incubation by both the male and female lasts about 34 days, and the young fledge in about nine weeks. Red-tailed Hawks can fly at 9 weeks (competent), and at 15 weeks are capable of being on their own but will continue to hang around parents. This species begins breeding at age 2.

  • Distribution

    The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common and widespread buteo of North America. They are found throughout North America except in the high Arctic, and northern birds are migratory.

  • Food

    This species feeds predominantly on rodents, mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, moles, chipmunks, weasels, and occasionally on birds, snakes, and insects.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Cisco, a Red-tailed Hawk, was transferred to the Carolina Raptor Center in 2005 from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He now helps out our education team by making appearances in public programming. He was named after Kevin Costner's army horse in the movie "Dances with Wolves".

    Henry the 1st, a Red-tailed Hawk, was transferred to Carolina Raptor Center in 1992 from Asheboro, NC. He now lives on the Raptor Trail with Oak, and can be distinguished as the lighter of the two hawks. Henry is named for King Henry the 1st of England, son of William the Conqueror who ruled from 1100-1135.

    Red-tailed Hawk Oak arrived from the Grassy Creek Wildlife Foundation in 2011. He was named by the Charlotte Arborists' Association in honor of their service to Carolina Raptor Center. His stature is as high and as strong as the mighty Oak whose name he carries. Red-tailed Hawks are the largest and most abundant hawks in North Carolina.

    Skoshi, the Red-tailed Hawk, got his name because he has a congenial defect in his left eye that makes it smaller than the right one… his name means "little" in Japanese. Although they are known and named for their rusty red tail, those red feathers don't grow in until the bird is about two or three years old. It is a sign of maturity and an advertisement to other hawks that they are ready to start their own family.

    Russell came to us in 2004 and is currently on our education team. It is often hard to tell males apart from females in the raptor world; males are usually smaller than females. Since Russell is small for a Red-tailed Hawk, we assumed she was a male, and named her before doing her blood test. When we found out we we were wrong and that Russell was female, we decided not to change her name, as it seemed to fit her very well (and it gives us a fun story to tell about her!)

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in North America. If you’ve got sharp eyes you’ll see several individuals on almost any long car ride, anywhere. Where-ever you go, there they are!

    The Red-tailed Hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.