Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are perhaps the most common hawk in the United States. Keep your eyes to the sky and to the tops of poles along the sides of highways to catch a glimpse. Unsure if it’s a Red-tailed Hawk? Keep a look out for the flash of red off the top of its tail feathers.

Red-tailed Hawk, photo by Mick Thompson

Size & Shape: 20″, wingspan 48″. Large hawk with very broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail.

Color: Rich brown above and pale below, dark line on leading edge of underwing, from neck to wrist, dark head, streaked band across belly, reddish tail.

Behavior: Hunt for wide variety of prey, mostly from perch, swooping to capture prey in talons. Also soars, sometimes “kites” in stationary hover in the wind. Will take carrion. Protects territory year round, calling at intruders.

Habitat: Open habitats, edges – highly adaptable. Fields, freeway corridors, clearcuts, open woods, urban areas, nesting on buildings.

Field Marks: Large hawk. Long, broad, rounded wings. Reddish tail with thin black band near tip. Mottled white shoulder patches.

Songs & Calls: Listen here.

Fun Facts: Whenever you hear the sound of a raptor in a film, it’s usually a Red-tailed Hawk because of their recognizable cry. Even if another species is shown!

To spot a Red-tailed Hawk, keep an eye out along open fields. While you may see them soaring overhead in slow circles, you’re most likely to find them atop fence posts, telephone poles, or in trees, as they spend the vast majority of their active hours perched.

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis