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Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

Order: Falconiformes - Vultures, hawks, eagles, kites, falcons
Family: Accipitridae - Kites, eagles, hawks

Scientific Name:  Buteo jamaicensis


Description:  Red-tailed hawks are a heavy bodied (2-3 lbs) raptor. Their wingspan is 4 to 4.5 feet, and their distinguishing characteristic is the brick red color of an adult’s tail. Their breast is white with a dark band of feathers on the belly. They have large, sharp talons, a sharp hooked beak, and amber eyes.


RangeHome Range:  From the Arctic Circle to Panama.


Habitat Type:  Deserts, cultivated land, wooded areas, grasslands, marshes, and rocky hills.  Prefers areas containing both woods (for nesting) and open areas (for hunting).


Reproduction:   Red-tailed hawks often mate for life.  Mates will usually return to the same area to build their nest. They breed in mid to late February.  Both sexes participate in nest building, incubation, and raising of the young. The nests are built with sticks and twigs, and are generally found in the tallest tree in the area.  Nest can also be found on artificial structures like towers, power poles, and buildings.   The nest may be reused year after year. It is often lined with bark, leaves, and other green vegetation.  The greenery may signal to other hawks to keep out, as it signifies that a nest is active. Pairs will lay 2 to 4 eggs that are white with sparse browns spots.  Incubation lasts 28 to 32 days.  The young are blind at hatching and fledge at about 45 days.  They are able to mate when they are two years old.   


Diet in the Wild:   Rodents (mice, rabbits, gophers, and squirrels), snakes, and some amphibians and birds.


Diet in the Zoo:  Bird of prey meat.


General Information:   The most abundantly and widely found hawk in North America, the red tail is a valuable predator of rodents.  They are protected by federal laws that prohibit possession of any or dead bird or its parts.  They have a slow, soaring flight, and their eyesight is excellent. They can spot tiny rodents sized prey from great distances, and they “swoop” through the air at high speeds with closed wings.  The attack culminates with the bird spreading its wings (acting like brakes), stiffening its legs, and driving its talons deep into its prey.  It also hunts from utility poles and wires, or dead tree branches. The word raptor comes from Latin and means “to grasp”.    


Conservation Status:  Listed on CITES appendix ll.


Predators:  No specific information found, eggs and chicks may be vulnerable to predators.



Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of the World Vol II. 1968 Leslie Brown, Dean Amadon. Country Life Books.  445-945 pp.    


Birds of Prey of the World. 262-263 pp.


Handbook of the Birds of the World.  Vol. 2.  1994.  J. del Hoyo; A. Elliot; J. Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions.  Barcelona.  pp. 608.