Facts about the Red-tailed Hawk HABITAT: Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most widely distributed hawks in North America. These common hawks range from central Alaska and northern Canada in the summer to Panama and the West Indies in the winter. Red-tails prefer to inhabit open fields and deserts containing some forested areas. They also adapt well to urban and tropical rainforest environments. Red-tailed Hawks build wide platform nests out of sticks, or may re-use one built in a previous year. They will build the nest on the top of a tall tree, a platform, cliff ledge, or even a building ledge. These nests are sometimes stolen by secondary nesters such as Great Horned Owls. HUNTING & DIET: Red-tailed Hawks are opportunistic hunters and will eat animals as diverse as rabbits, squirrels, snakes, lizards, insects and birds. However, 85% - 90% of their diet is made up of small mammals – mainly rabbits, squirrels, and mice/rats. They are also able to distinguish between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. They hunt venomous snakes by using a special “matador” move. They fling their wings out in front of the snake to distract it. The snake will strike at the feathers, which have no blood flow and will not harm the hawk (much like if a snake struck a human’s hair). The hawk will then grab the snake and crush its head with its powerful feet ( ). Occasionally, if it is not venomous, Red-tailed Hawks will kill a snake by flying it up into the air and letting gravity do the work for them by dropping the snake on a hard surface. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjmJla-q880 HAWK SPECIES: Other members of
the Buteo family found in Washington include the Swainson's hawk, the
Rough-legged Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk. The Swainson’s Hawk visits this
area in the summer, when it migrates up from South America. In flight, it is
identifiable by white underwing coverts, and dark flight feathers. The
Rough-legged Hawk is in this area in the winter, when it migrates south from
the Arctic, where they breed. In flight, it is identifiable by a very prominent
black wrist patch, and dark primary feather tips. Both of these birds tend to
hunt smaller prey than the Red-tail, allowing them to coexist peacefully where
their ranges overlap. Ferruginous hawks are rare summer visitors to Eastern
Washington. They are the largest Buteo in North America and can be
distinguished by the dark reddish “V” made by their legs in flight. The
Red-tailed Hawk does not migrate unless local conditions become intolerable.
However, they will do a range shift where they move to another territory for a
are members of the genus Buteo consisting of the larger soaring hawks. Buteos
are known for their broad wings and relatively short tails, which distinguishes
them from other diurnal raptors: accipiters, falcons, and eagles. They can
often be found circling over fields in search of food. This circling is eased
by warm air thermals rising up into the sky. This method of travel is efficient
for the birds and expends little energy.
There are around
14 subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks. The two most recognisable subspecies are the
Harlan’s hawk, and the Krider’s hawk. Harlan’s hawks have dark plumage overall
and a mottled grey and black tail. Krider’s tend to have white underparts and
head, large patches of white on upper, and lacks red tail.
MALES V FEMALES: There are no physical characteristics that distinguish males from females, although females on average tend to be slightly larger than the males. PHYSICAL FEATURES:
typically weigh between 1.5 and 3 pounds. Adult birds are typically dark brown
on their backs and on the tops of their wings. Their undersides are generally
light with markings on their wings that can be described as a dash followed by
a comma starting near the shoulder and extending out toward the primary
feathers. We sometimes refer to this as the “Oreo” pattern because in flight
the pattern looks like a dark outer ring with a lighter filling. Adults may
also show a light colored patch of feathering on their chests, commonly referred
to as a "sunburst". They also have a white spot on the backs of their
heads, which can be difficult to spot in the wild.
Red-tailed Hawks resemble the adults, but their tails are brown with stripes,
their chest tends to be a light tan shade with brown streaks, and they sport
yellow eyes rather than the dark brown of the adults. They will start to get
their red tail with the first molt at one year of age, and will have a fully
red tail by the second year.
MATING AND NESTS: They mate for life which means a mated pair will usually stay together until one of the pair dies. During courtship, the male puts on a display of diving and swooping, and may occasionally clasp talons with the female and spiral through the air. EYESIGHT:
are very well adapted to locate prey from great distances. Their eyesight is at
least 8-times more powerful than that of humans! In other words, if a hawk were
to stand at one end of a football field, he would be able to see a grasshopper
jump across the end zone on the opposite end with ease! They usually sit in a
tree or on a telephone pole and survey the area for food before diving quickly
to pounce on their prey.