All about Red-Tailed Hawks

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis or hawk from Jamaica. Red-tailed Hawks were first scientifically studied in Jamaica.

Description: Red-tailed Hawks are known for their beautiful red tail feathers. They receive these red-colored feathers when they mature, at about 2 years of age. Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks have dark brown tail feathers with darker striping. They also have a very light colored chest with a prominent belly band of dark brown streaking and a white spotted ‘V’ on their wings. Their brown head, back and wings also have a lighter shade underneath the feathers. Once these hawks reach maturity, it isn’t just the tail color that changes. Their chest becomes more tawny colored with a less pronounced belly band of brown streaks. The wings lose the white ‘V’ as well. There are 16 subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, meaning there are a lot of color variations. The Harlan’s Hawk subspecies often has little to no red coloring in their dark tail feathers. The Krider’s subspecies has much paler feathers; even their tails are mostly white and just tinged with reddish-pink. Sizes for the Red-tailed Hawk can also range from 700-1000 grams for males and up to 1400 grams for females. Their wingspan can be up to 4 feet long.

Behavior: The Red-tailed Hawk’s broad, rounded wings enable them to soar for long periods of time up in the air. Soaring is not only a way to find prey- they also use these flight patterns for courtship and play. Adults will mate for life and are highly territorial. They have even been seen chasing off Bald Eagles. The pair will build a nest together, usually in the upper branches of trees, and may reuse nests year after year if they are still suitable. These nests can be up to 3 feet across and over 6 feet high! The female will lay 1-5 eggs. After the young have hatched, it takes approximately 44 days for them to fledge. However, if food sources are plentiful, the juveniles may stay with the parents for up to a year. 

Diet: Red-tailed Hawks are generalist hunters. They will eat birds, mammals and reptiles. Mice, rats, rabbits, snakes and small ground birds make up the majority of their diet. These hawks will also eat carrion when necessary.

Conservation: While Red-tailed Hawks are considered a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, they do face issues such as lead poisoning, car collisions and rodenticides. They have even been known to be poached for their feathers. 

How you can help: Turning away from lead bullets and other lead-based products can help prevent vultures from unintentionally ingesting lead. Using rodenticide alternatives, such as natural deterrents or electric traps, can reduce the amount of poison being introduced to the environment. Keeping litter off the streets and roadways reduces the number of prey animals that will hang out in these areas. In doing so, this reduces the chances that a hawk or other predatory bird will fly low across roadways (usually in pursuit of the prey).

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