By Joanna Hoffman
This Article was previously published in June of 2010. It has been updated and revisited June of 2023.
If you keep an eye on the clouds, you’re bound to see a Red-tailed hawk soaring and screeching across the Bay’s blue skies. Red-tailed hawks are the most common member of the genus Buteo found in North America. They seek out open fields, perch on telephones poles, and wait patiently to strike at unsuspecting rodents. Over time, Red-tailed hawks have evolved to inhabit a wider range of territories. They are found in human environments, tropical rainforests, and out in the middle of the plains. Wherever a squirrel, mouse, or other juicy morsel resides, a Red-tailed hawk is sure to be found.
Red-tailed hawks are big. They are also sexually dimorphic, meaning females are generally 25% larger than adult males. The males are 17.5-22 inches long, have a 45-52.5 inch wingspan, and weigh it 24.5-50 ounces. These hawks have stout and expansive wings and a squat fan-shaped tail. Adults are typically dark brown on the top and with light colored, brown speckled undersides.
Range and Habitat
Red-tailed Hawks are found everywhere. From the icy skies of Alaska, across the United States, down to Central America and throughout the West Indies, hawks soar. They live year round in the United States, from the northwest to the southeast. If you look out with sharp eyes, you can spot them on fence posts, on high trees, and circling over open fields. They occupy raptor territories in the forest, in the desert, in grasslands, marshlands, farm fields, and anywhere else they might catch sight of lunch from a scouting height.
As carnivorous, opportunistic raptors, Red-tailed Hawks prey mostly upon mice, rats, voles, jackrabbits, hares, and ground squirrels. Their extremely sharp talons allow them to easily snatch up these small mammals. Red-tails also occasionally prey on reptiles and other birds. The Watershed Project’s own Harold Hedelman recently witnessed a Red-tailed hawk seize a baby crow, only to be chased by the crow parents across the sky (the swift hawk did dine on crow in the end).
Mating and Lifespan
The mating dance of Red-tailed Hawks has been referred to as an aerial acrobatics show. The male and female hawks circle around and up, gaining elevation until the male dives down. He then dances back towards the female. When she is impressed enough with the display, they lock talons and fall together, spiraling down towards the ground. These hawks are monogamous and stay together until death does them part. Both sexes will incubate the eggs, kept in a nest made of sticks high above the earth. After about four to five weeks the eggs hatch, and the parents feed the offspring for the six weeks they live in the protected nest. Once out on their own they may live for an average of 21 years.
Under the Bird Conservation Status index, Red-tailed Hawks are of Least Concern. The populations of Red-tailed Hawks are healthy and bountiful across North America. So keep your eyes peeled for this amazing creature!