Looking for Raptors? Start With The Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of North America’s most common and widespread hawks.

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.

The reddish orange highlights of an adult Red-tailed Hawk's tail are visible from underneath when in flight.

The reddish orange highlights of an adult Red-tailed Hawk’s tail are visible from underneath when in flight.

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.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks are identified by their tails and the yellow coloured iris.

The brown tail with dark narrow bars combined with the yellow iris of it’s eye, identify this as a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

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 screech of this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk quickly gave away it's location.

The loud screech of this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk quickly gave away it’s location.

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.

The red tail for which this hawk is named is most visible from the topside.

The red tail for which this hawk is named is most visible from the topside.

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.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

 

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