Learn About Red-Tailed Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a medium-sized bird of prey. It breeds throughout almost all North America from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common hawk in North America.
This hawk gets his name from his uniformly brick-red tail. Although, the tail of the immature Red-tailed Hawk is patterned with numerous darker bars.
It typically weighs from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm. The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, as females are about 25% heavier than males.
The Red-tailed Hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, Red-tailed hawks are very often used for falconry.
The Red-tailed Hawk also has significance in Native American culture. Its feathers are considered sacred by some tribes, and are used in religious ceremonies.
The cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a hoarse, rasping scream, described as kree-eee-ar, which begins at a high pitch and slurs downward. This cry is often described as sounding similar to a steam whistle.
Because of its robust crispness, a certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a cliché cinematic sound effect. This high, piercing scream is often featured in the background of adventure movies to give a sense of wilderness to the scene. However, the cry is often inaccurately used for the Bald Eagle, whose own vocalizations are quite different and less robust.
Like all birds of prey, the Red-tailed Hawk is carnivorous, and it is also an opportunistic feeder. Its diet is mainly small mammals, but it also includes birds and reptiles. Prey varies with regional and seasonal availability, but usually centers on small rodents. Additional preys include rabbits, snakes, waterfowl, bats, shrews, crustaceans, insects, rodents, and fish.
The Red-tailed Hawk hunts primarily from an elevated perch site, swooping down from a perch to seize prey, catching birds while flying, or pursuing prey on the ground from a low flight.
The Red-tailed Hawk reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. It is monogamous, mating with the same individual for many years. In general, the Red-tailed Hawk will only take a new mate when its original mate dies. The same nesting territory may be defended by the pair for years.
The pair constructs a stick nest in a large tree or on a cliff ledge or may nest on man-made structures. The nest is constructed of twigs, and lined with bark, pine needles, corn cobs, husks, stalks, aspen catkins, or other plant lining matter.
A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid in March or April. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. Eggs are laid approximately every other day. They are incubated primarily by female, with the male substituting when the female leaves to hunt or merely stretch her wings. The male brings most food to the female while she incubates. After 28 to 35 days, the eggs hatch over 2 to 4 days.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Falconiformes
- Family: Accipitridae
- Genus: Buteo
- Species: B. jamaicensis
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