Photo: A juvenile red-tailed hawk prepares to land

The most common hawk in North America, red-tails can often be seen atop utility poles and other lofty perches, on the lookout for potential prey.

Photograph by Rich Reid

Map

Map: Hawk range

Red-Tailed Hawk Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
21 years
Size:
Body, 18 to 26 in (45 to 65 cm); wingspan, 38 to 43 in (1.1 to 1.3 m)
Weight:
24.3 to 51.5 oz (690 to 1,460 g)
Did you know?
The red-tailed hawk is displaying an aggressive posture when it holds its body and head upright while its feathers are standing erect.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Hawk compared with adult man

These beautiful birds are North America's most common hawks. They are found all over the continent, in Central America, and in the West Indies. The first of these hawks to be scientifically studied was found in Jamaica.

Red-tailed hawks are known for their brick-colored tails, but there are 14 subspecies of various colorations, and not all of them have this characteristic.

These birds of prey are also known as buzzard hawks and red hawks. By any name, they are keen-eyed and efficient hunters. Red-tails prefer open areas, such as fields or deserts, with high perching places nearby from which they can watch for prey. But these birds are adaptable and also dwell in mountains and tropical rain forests. Hawks have even embraced human habitats. They often perch on telephone poles and take advantage of the open spaces along the roadside to spot and seize mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, reptiles, or other prey.

Breeding season initiates a spectacular sequence of aerial acrobatics. Hawk pairs fly in large circles and gain great height before the male plunges into a deep dive and subsequent steep climb back to circling height. Later, the birds grab hold of one another with their talons and fall spiraling towards earth.

Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and may mate for life. They make stick nests high above the ground, in which the female lays one to five eggs each year. Both sexes incubate the eggs for four to five weeks, and feed the young from the time they hatch until they leave the nest about six weeks later.

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