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Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Buteoninae
Genus: Buteo

Length: 15-19 in.
Weight: 1.1-2 lbs.
Wingspan: 37-42 in.

Common Name: red-tail, chicken hawk
Etymology: buteo (Latin) - "a kind of hawk"; jamaicensis - indicates where first specimen was collected
Description: A typical buteo, soaring hawks with broad wings and tail. Plumages are highly variable, 4 light-morphs and 3 dark-morph forms are distinguishable. Have 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. Adult tail is rufous with dark terminal band; immature tail is light brown with narrow dark bands of equal width. Adults have shorter tails and broader wings than immatures so look different in flight silhouette. Iris color darkens with age. Light "V" on the back. Partial albinos are common.


Flight, Voice, and Habitat:

Active flight is with slow, deep wingbeats, and may soar or glide in a slight dihedral. Can also hover or kite on the wind.

Often described as a scream, resembles a long, wheezy "kkeeeeer." Used on television, regularly dubbed over as the sound of an eagle or vulture.

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 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. Breed at age 2.


They are the most common and widespread buteo of North America. They are found throughout North America except in the high Arctic; northern birds are migratory.


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



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