If seeing a large raptor is on your birding wish list, look to the sky for the Red-tailed Hawk. They are equally at home in an urban or rural environment and can be found throughout a wide variety of habitat including: forest edges, farmland, city parks, and even backyards. These large raptors are frequently seen perched on fence posts, hydro poles, or in large trees, and are the bird of prey that are most frequently seen when traveling along any highway.
For the most part, Red-tailed Hawks are easily identified. Large stocky bodies, rounded wings and a short wide tail are key features that assist in a positive identification. Adult birds have dark brown backs and are streaked brown and white underneath. As the name suggests, adult Red-tailed Hawks display a reddish orange tail most visible from the topside. In flight, the reddish highlights of the tail are visible from the underside. Juveniles, as with many raptors, are a little tougher to identify. Their tails lack the reddish colour, and are dark brown with narrow darker bars. Sometimes a view of the tail is not always available. If this is the case, juveniles are also distinguished from adult birds by their eye colour. A yellow iris indicates a young bird. As the birds matures, the iris becomes a reddish brown.
Small mammals including rabbits, squirrels, mice and voles make up the majority of the Red-tailed Hawks diet, but they will also consume birds and reptiles. Their diet varies depending on range and season. In my travels, I have personally seen Red-tailed Hawks eating squirrels, rabbits, starlings, and frogs. Their varied diet and habitat are things that lead to their wide range and abundance.
The loud screeching call of this raptor is most often heard during courtship and when juveniles leave the nest. If you hear this call look up, as this large hawk is most likely overhead. On one of my recent walks through a city park I came across a group of young hawks that had recently fledged. Their sharp calls quickly gave away their location and their short flights were a joy to watch and photograph.
Keep an eye to the sky and treeline next time you are out for a walk or traveling down your local highway. Chances are you will see one of these beautiful raptors.