do red tail hawks eat birds

Looking for ID Help?

Our free app offers quick ID help with global coverage.

Or Browse Bird Guide by Family or Shape

Need Bird ID Help? Try Merlin

Seasonal Count – from North Lookout – 1934 to Date

The Red-tailed Hawk is characterized by variability and versatility. The redtail is frequently referred to as a “jack-of-all-trades” due to its amazing diversity in plumage, habitat use, and hunting ecology throughout its vast range. The redtail is a large, stocky buteo that ranges in geographic location from central Alaska and Canada to Panama. Redtails are widespread migrants found at numerous watchsites across their range in North America. They are among the most commonly seen raptors in the area because they prefer to perch and soar in open habitats and tolerate environments where humans are prevalent. One of the easiest raptors to identify is this species due to its adult reddish-or rufous-colored tail.

With isolated trees or small woodlots that offer nest sites and elevated perches for hunting, red-tailed hawks have adapted to human landscapes, and in recent years, their population in North America has increased. The development of the Interstate Highway System and the thinning of forests have both produced excellent hunting grounds for Red-tailed Hawks in the eastern United States. In the American West, power lines and fire suppression offer more hunting spots.

Red-tailed Hawks also have benefited from protection from human persecution. The species was dubbed the “chicken hawk” and held responsible for chicken losses as recently as the middle of the 20th century. ” As a result, redtails were commonly shot. Because it preferred to perch in the open, the Red-tailed Hawk was especially susceptible to persecution.

One of the biggest open-habitat raptors in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk, is a prime example of the traditional “buteo” configuration. Its large wings, chunky body, and frequently spread or fanned tail are its distinguishing features. The Red-tailed Hawk appears “muscular” when in flight due to its round-tipped wings and protruding secondary feathers. Redtails usually hold their wings in a shallow “V” or a slight dihedral when they are flying. The redtail, ferruginous hawk, and rough-legged hawk are the only buteos that routinely “kite” in North America, facing the wind with their wings spread.

The species varies in plumage across its range. There are clear distinctions between age groups, racial groups, and color morphs. Individual redtails vary in color from white to black underneath and from brown to black on the upperparts. The tail is occasionally streaked or spotted. It can be solid rufous or banded brown. The tail of an adult is usually rufous or reddish, with a thin dark band at the tip. Juveniles differ from adults in that they have longer, brownish tails and narrower wings, with seven to nine equally wide dark brown bands. In the eastern United States, dark morphs are uncommon compared to their prevalence in the American West. Adult light morphs have coverts on their upperwings and a dark brown head and back. The underparts have dark markings that frequently form a belly band and are pale cream or whitish in color. The underwings are pale with dark, rectangular patagial marks.

Soaring flight is essential for individuals to establish and maintain nesting territories during the breeding season. When soaring, redtails can survey their territory and locate intruders. The aerial courtship displays of migrants start in late winter or early spring. Sedentary birds, who stay in pairs all year, perform aerial displays all year long, though the majority happen in the early spring. In these aerial displays of mating, males frequently descend steeply and then ascend again, and pairs soar in large circles together. Usually flying slightly behind the female, the males sometimes interlock their talons and spiral down toward the ground.

Couples construct brand-new nests or renovate preexisting ones. Branches that are two to three feet long and typically less than half an inch thick are used to build nests. Both the male and female take part in nest building. Redtails are reclusive creatures and may leave their nests if they feel unsettled. Nest locations vary according to the habitat that is available, but they typically have an excellent view of the surrounding area and are open from above. Redtails typically choose to nest near the tops or close to the trunks of trees in forested areas. Some of them build their nests atop cliffs and man-made structures like powerline towers.

One to five eggs are laid by redtails overall, with a 48-hour gap between each egg. The 28–35 day incubation period starts as soon as the first egg is laid. The male feeds the female during the majority of the incubation, which is done by the female. The male continues to supply the majority of the food while the female raises the nestlings for 30 to 35 days following egg hatching. Only the female provides the chicks with food, even though both parents will bring prey back to the nest. The young fledge between 44 and 46 days of age, and the parents nurse them for an additional four to seven weeks after that. The young gradually leave the nest during this period, get better at flying, and start going on independent hunts. After fleeing, some people stay with their parents for up to six months.

As generalist predators, red-tailed hawks usually hunt small to medium-sized reptiles, birds, and mammals, including jackrabbits. The majority focus their hunting efforts on species that are common and simple to capture. Because of this, redtail diets vary by area, by season, and even by individual. The majority of prey is returned to a feeding perch and decapitated prior to ingestion. Feathers are typically removed from birds, even small ones, but small mammals are frequently consumed whole. Redtails frequently feed on carrion, including roadkills.

Red-tailed Hawks rarely hunt from soaring, kiting, or powered flight; instead, they are primarily perch-hunters, even though they are frequently observed soaring. It seems that an appropriate hunting habitat must include elevated perch sites. Red-tailed Hawks were found to favor hunting in areas with perches despite the fact that many of these areas had lower prey densities than more open areas, according to an Arkansas study.

One of the 26 raptors in North America that is a partial migrant is the red-tailed hawk.

Some redtails migrate, while others do not, making them partial migrants. For the winter, a large number of redtails that are found in southern Canada and the northern United States, which is the northern part of the species’ range, migrate to areas that are further south. Even in the harshest winters, a small number of “northern birds” continue to live on their breeding grounds. While some may leave the breeding territories for a few weeks in the middle of winter, most individuals at mid-latitudes spend all or most of the winter on their breeding grounds. The majority of breeding birds in Central America and the southern United States are non-migratory. As a result, during the winter, when these regions are home to both migratory and sedentary birds, the population of Red-tailed Hawks increases in the southern regions of the species’ breeding range.

Juveniles usually head south in autumn first, and they usually go further south than adults. Adults migrate earlier in the spring and spend the winter closer to their breeding grounds. Red-tailed Hawk migrations in eastern North America take place in the fall, from August to early January, and in the spring, from February to early June.

Red-tailed Hawks often capitalize on favorable atmospheric conditions while traveling. Similar to other raptors, this species migrates in broad sweeps at first, then concentrates along major leading lines. Leading lines appear when migrants make use of or steer clear of landscape features. During migration, redtails and other Buteos usually soar rather than making lengthy water crossings that need prolonged powered flight. Long ridges where updrafts allow for slope-soaring are among the favorable landscape features that concentrate migrants. Man-made features like cities where “heat islands” produce multiple thermals are also beneficial. The Kittatinny Ridge in eastern Pennsylvania’s central Appalachian Mountains is one prominent line. Redtails fly between thirty and forty miles per hour when they are riding updrafts on ridges and mountains.

Because of variations in weather, the species’ migratory behavior varies depending on the season. According to observations made at Hawk Mountain, redtails change their migration strategy later in the season from thermal soaring to slope-soaring as thermal soaring opportunities diminish. As the season goes on, the day length and temperature drop, and the thermal strength decreases.

From 1934 to 2001, an average of 3,300 southbound Red-tailed Hawks were observed annually at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The redtail flight typically peaks in the first week of November, and 90% of the birds pass between October and December 1. The two days that follow a cold front are usually when the largest flights are seen because the weather is ideal for slope-soaring.

What Size is a Red-tailed Hawk?

  • The Accipitridae family, which comprises 224 species of hawks, eagles, vultures, harriers, and kites, is home to red-tailed hawks.
  • There are 16 sub-species of Red-tailed Hawks in North America.
  • often known as roadside hawks because they frequently hunt alongside Interstate Highways.
  • Are the largest buteos in eastern North America.
  • Often feed on carrion.
  • Sometimes specialize in stealing prey from other raptors.
  • Perform elaborate aerial courtship displays.
  • Are usually monogamous and sometimes mate for life.
  • In many areas of eastern North America, Red-tailed Hawks have largely replaced Red-shouldered Hawks due to forest loss.
  • With the exception of a red tail, dark brown or black plumage characterizes dark morph Red-tailed Hawks, which are mostly found in western North America.