Red Talied Hawk 2011

Juvenile 2011

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Sub-Adult 2012

Half Moon Bay, California 2011
Emigrant Wilderness, California 2012

Keys to identification Help

Size & Shape
Red-tailed Hawks are large hawks with typical Buteo proportions: very broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail. Large females seen from a distance might fool you into thinking you’re seeing an eagle. (Until an actual eagle comes along.)

Color Pattern
Most Red-tailed Hawks are rich brown above and pale below, with a streaked belly and, on the wing underside, a dark bar between shoulder and wrist. The tail is usually pale below and cinnamon-red above, though in young birds it’s brown and banded. “Dark-morph” birds are all chocolate-brown with a warm red tail. “Rufous-morph” birds are reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly.

Behavior
You’ll most likely see Red-tailed Hawks soaring in wide circles high over a field. When flapping, their wingbeats are heavy. In high winds they may face into the wind and hover without flapping, eyes fixed on the ground. They attack in a slow, controlled dive with legs outstretched – much different from a falcon’s stoop.

Habitat
The Red-tailed Hawk is a bird of open country. Look for it along fields and perched on telephones poles, fenceposts, or trees standing alone or along edges of fields.

Cool Facts

  • The Red-tailed Hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.
  • Birds are amazingly adapted for life in the air. The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, yet even the biggest females weigh in at only about 3 pounds. A similar-sized small dog might weigh 10 times that.
  • The "Harlan's Hawk" breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada, and winters on the southern Great Plains. This very dark form of the Red-tailed Hawk has a marbled white, brown, and gray tail instead of a red one. It’s so distinctive that it was once considered a separate species, until ornithologists discovered many individuals that were intermediate between Harlan's and more typical Red-tailed Hawks.
  • Courting Red-tailed Hawks put on a display in which they soar in wide circles at a great height. The male dives steeply, then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops he approaches the female from above, extends his legs, and touches her briefly. Sometimes, the pair grab onto one other, clasp talons, and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away.
  • Red-tailed Hawks have been seen hunting as a pair, guarding opposite sides of the same tree to catch tree squirrels.
  • The oldest known wild Red-tailed Hawk was at least 30 years, 8 months old when it was found in Michigan, the same state where it had been banded.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-tailed_hawk/id

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