Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-tailed Hawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Buteo jamaicensis | [authority] Gmelin, 1788 | [UK] Red-tailed Hawk | [FR] Buse a queue rousse | [DE] Rotschwanz-Bussard | [ES] Busardo Colirrojo | [NL] Roodstaartbuizerd


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Buteo are broad-winged, broad-tailed hawks, Well adapted for soaring. The bill, legs and talons are of average proportions. There is much colour variation both within the species, and, by way of phases, within individual species. In all cases the young are quite different from adults in that they are all well camouflaged with an overall brown appearance with varying amounts of striping below and paler mottling above.
The 25 species are spread worldwide with the exception of Australasia and much of the Indian sub-continent.

Physical charateristics

When this large, broad-winged, wide-tailed hawk veers while soaring, the rufous
on the topside of the tail is evident (on adults). From below the tail is pale, but may transmit a hint of red. Overhead, a dependable mark on all but blackish birds is a black or dark patagial bar
on the fore edge of the wing. Immature birds have grayish tails that may or may not show narrow banding. They also show the patagial bar. Underparts of typical Red-tails east of the Rockies are “zoned” (light breast, broad
band of streaks across the belly), except in some birds of southwestern Texas (“Fuertes” Red-tail). On the Great Plains, the pale kriderii
form is found. There is much variation farther west; these Red-tails tend to be darker. One might encounter the blackish harlani,
as well as deep rusty and melanistic birds. The latter usually have the telltale rust on their tails. Red-tails usually perch conspicuously.
“Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk(Buteo jamaicensis harlani) A variable blackish race of the Red-tail; regarded by some as a distinct species. Similar
to other melanistic Red-tails, but tail never solid red; usually dirty white, with a longitudinal mottling and freckling of black merging into a dark terminal band, giving a white-rumped look.
Some may have a mottling of red on the tail. This race breeds in eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Winters southeastward to Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley.
“Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk(Buteo jamaicensis kriderii) A pale prairie form of the Red-tail, with a whitish tail that may be tinged with pale rufous.
This form breeds on the prairies and plains of Canada and north-central United States. Winters south through the southern plains to Texas, Louisiana.

Listen to the sound of Red-tailed Hawk

[audio: Hawk.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

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North America, Middle America : widespread


Open country, woodlands, prairie groves, mountains, plains, roadsides.
Found in any kind of terrain that provides both some open ground for hunting and some high perches. Habitats may include everything from woodland with scattered clearings to open grassland or desert with a few trees or utility poles.


In courtship, male and female soar in high circles, with shrill cries. Male may fly high and then dive repeatedly in spectacular maneuvers; may catch prey and pass it to female in flight.
Site usually in tree, up to 120′ above ground; also nests on cliff ledges, among arms of giant cactus, or on towers or poles. Nest (built by both sexes) a bulky bowl of sticks, lined with finer materials, often with leafy green branches added.

Clutch 2 -3, sometimes 4, rarely 1 -5. Whitish, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 28-35 days.
Young: Female remains with young most of the time during first few weeks, while male brings most food. Young leave the nest about 6 –
7 weeks after hatching but are not capable of strong flight for another 2 weeks or more. Fledglings may remain with parents for several more weeks.

Feeding habits

Varied; includes small mammals, birds, reptiles.
Mammals such as voles, rats, rabbits, and ground squirrels are often major prey; also eats many birds (up to size of pheasant) and reptiles, especially snakes. Sometimes eats bats, frogs, toads, insects, various other creatures; may feed on carrion.

Behavior: Does most hunting by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to capture prey in its talons. Also hunts by flying over fields, watching for prey below. Small prey carried to perch, large prey often partly eaten on ground.

Video Red-tailed Hawk


copyright: J. del Hoyo


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Red-tailed Hawk status Least Concern


Alaska, Canada, to Panama. Migration:
Northern Red-tails may migrate far to the south, while many at central or southern latitudes (especially adults) are permanent residents. Most migration is relatively late in fall and early in spring.

Distribution map

Red-tailed Hawk distribution range map

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