Squam Lakes Natural Science Center - Nearer To Nature
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Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Buteo
Species: B. jamaicensis

Fast Facts

Red-tailed HawkLifespan: 5-10 years in the wild (banding record 28 years 10 months)
Size: 46-56 inch wingspan; weight: 3-3.5 pounds; height 19-25 inches
Eggs Laid: 2 to 3 eggs
Flight Speed: 20-40 mph
Status: Common

What are tips for identifying a Red-tailed Hawk? 
The most distinctive characteristic is the reddish-brown tail of the adults which is very evident in flight. Backs are dark brown with some pale highlights while underparts are whitish with dark streaking sometimes forming a dark belly band. Sexes have the same plumage but females are larger. Red-tailed Hawks are in a group of hawks called “buteos” or soaring hawks and have broad wings and fan-shaped tails.

What is the habitat of the Red-tailed Hawk? 
These hawks range throughout the United States and have one of the largest ranges of any hawk in North America. Ideal habitat consists of woods bordered by open land. Tall trees for nesting and hunting perches are essential. Do they migrate? Some do, particularly in the northern part of their range, but many remain in their home range throughout the year. 

How do they hunt and what is their prey? 
When hunting wary prey like rabbits or squirrels, Red-tailed Hawks may hunt from a high tree perch or by soaring at a moderate height above the ground, swooping down to catch the prey with their talons at the opportune moment. For smaller prey like mice, insects and snakes they may hunt from low posts or by low-level flights. A wide variety of prey are taken including woodchucks, weasels, birds, snakes and frogs but the major prey species are small rodents particularly meadow voles.

What special adaptations do Red-tailed Hawks have? 
Like all hawks, they have excellent vision and see in color. Strong, sharp talons enable them to catch their prey while their hooked beaks are designed for ripping and tearing pieces of meat.

How do Red-tailed Hawks raise their young? 
Both the male and female construct a nest of twigs and sticks in a tall tree. Females incubate the eggs for about 30 days, all the while being fed by the male. Chicks fly within 45 days of hatching and stay with the adults for another two months. Red-tailed Hawks may reuse the nest in subsequent years or other raptors such as the Great Horned Owl may move in.

Fun Facts!

  • Red-tailed Hawks have a loud, descending call, sounding like “keeeer.
  • Nests can be 2.5 to 3 feet in diameter.
  • This is the hawk you are most likely to see soaring above a field or perched in a tree beside the road.