The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a huge raptor commonly sighted in the skies of North America. They are frequently soaring up in the sky or perched on vantage points either looking for prey they can feast on or waiting for the weather to change to their liking. These birds of prey have rather wide powerful wings with a stout but still quite formidable brick-colored tail. The females are larger than their male counterparts, often mistaken as eagles when flying. Typical weight of a female red tailed hawk is approximately 4 pounds while the male reaches just about 3 pounds. Other common names for these birds are the red hawk and buzzard hawk.
Red-tailed hawks feed on all kinds of small mammals, especially those easily found within their natural habitat. They are what is known as opportunistic feeders, meaning they eat whatever they can find whether it is their own kill or not, although experts believe the former is preferred. They are strictly carnivores often found seizing rabbits, rats, blackbirds, snakes and even small dogs and cats. They have excellent eyesight and are very swift hunters. Red-tailed hawks can stay perched atop high places for very long periods of time, patiently waiting for their food to come along then skillfully diving in one fell swoop.
Habitat and Range
Red-tailed hawks have been found breeding successfully in such places as Quebec, Florida, Mexico, Alaska and other regions of North America. They thrive in habitats like rainforests, deserts, grasslands and even areas where humans live. These raptors are well accepted by people, often left alone perched on telephone poles and elevated areas near roads and highways. Their population has shown remarkable stability over the years (2.3 million in 2012) causing them to be classified as animals of Least Concern.
Red-tailed hawks are fascinating creatures to observe not only for their impressive hunting skills but also for their quick adaptability. They are easily identified by their shrill cries which have been compared to a steam whistle. When they fly, they do so at great heights covering vast distances in short amounts of time using their sturdy wings. Red-tailed hawks are aggressive defenders of their territories and their partner which is apparent when their feathers are up and their heads are held upright. They prefer hunting in pairs and have been known to show teamwork, even going as far as learning how to trap small animals in their midst. Being excellent nest builders they select sites too high up for terrestrial animals to reach. Compared to other hawks, these birds are not as fast as falcons although their cunning and intelligence make them very popular in the sport of falconry.
Red-tailed hawks are monogamous, often mating with just one female all throughout their lives. The female can lay up to 5 eggs annually, with both parents taking turns in incubating them for about four to five weeks or until they have hatched. After hatching, the young ones are taken care of inside the nest for up to six weeks with both the male and the female feeding them alternately.