32 Interesting Facts About Red-tailed Hawks

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The Red-tailed hawk is the most common species of hawk in North America and can be seen soaring above open fields looking for prey, sitting atop telephone poles looking for prey, or on a tree branch… yes, looking for prey. They are excellent hunters and there are loads of interesting facts about Red-tailed hawks.

You probably pass them regularly and don’t even realize it. They really are some of the coolest birds of prey in North America so let’s get right into some amazing red-tailed hawk facts!

Interesting facts about Red-tailed hawks

Red-tailed hawk diet

red tailed hawk with prey1. The Red-tailed hawk’s diet consists mainly of small mammals and rodents including squirrels and mice. They also enjoy eating other birds, fish, and reptiles. Do Red-tailed Hawks eat cats or dogs? No you don’t have to worry about that, it’s extremely rare.

2. They are occasionally seen hunting in pairs and blocking off escape routes for their prey.

3. Adult Red-tailed hawks don’t have to eat every day and may fast once a week. Juveniles however are growing and need to eat more often than adults.

4. Red-tails do eat reptiles which includes snakes. Among their favorite in the snake category are Rattlesnakes and Bull Snakes.

These hand-carved and 100% custom-made hawks are made by an amazingly talented craftsman on Etsy. Carved from basswood and finely detailed with acrylic paints, each one is extremely lifelike from head to tail feathers. With no 2 birds being the same, one of these works of art would make a wonderful gift to any bird lover.

5. They are not above stealing prey from other raptors.

Red-tailed hawk habitat

red tailed hawk perched on tree

6. Red-tails are highly adaptable to their environments and can be found in a number of different places including open woodlands, deserts, grasslands, fields, parks, and along roadsides.

7. They stay in the same territory their whole lives, usually just about 2 square miles, but that area may be as big as 10 square miles.

Red-tailed hawk range and population

image credit: https://birdsna.org

8. There are almost 2 million nesting hawks in North America. This number accounts for about 90% of the global Red-tailed Hawk population. Red-tailed Hawks are not endangered and the population is steadily increasing.

9. Red-tailed Hawks have increased and extended their range over the last century

10. The Red-tailed hawk is federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and can’t be hunted or harassed in any way without a special permit from the U.S. government.

Red-tailed hawk breeding, nesting, juveniles

red tailed hawk in nest
image: Mike’s Birds – CC 2.0

11. Red-tailed Hawks put on amazing aerial displays during courtship when the male and female soar together in circles before mating. Sometimes they will lock talons and plummet towards the ground before breaking apart.

12. Red-tails are monogamous birds and mate with the same individual for many years only changing mates when one dies.

13. Red-tailed Hawks build nests in a tall trees,  on cliff ledges, high up on billboards, and other places that give them a commanding view of the landscape beneath.

14. Red-tailed hawks aren’t at breeding age until they are around 3 years old.

15. Their nests, which may be used several years in a row, are about 28-38 inches wide and up to 3 feet tall.

16. The female lays anywhere from 1 to 5 eggs, usually in early April. The eggs are laid every other day and are incubated by both parents for up to 35 days, the male hunts for food when it’s not his turn.

17. Juveniles don’t grow in their red tail feathers until around their second year of life.

18. The young may start to fledge in about 42 days, however they may remain with the parents for up to 60 or 70 additional days while they are “learning to adult”.

More facts about Red-tailed hawks

red-tailed hawk on pole

19. The Great Horned Owl is the Red-tails main foe and natural predator. They are natural enemies and will battle over nests and even eat each others young if given the opportunity. However they co-exist in many areas because the hawks hunt during the day and the owls hunt at night.

20. Crows are another enemy. Red-tailed Hawks eat other birds and will steal young from their nests as a meal, this includes crows. Crows are highly intelligent birds and recognize Red-tails as enemies because of this and will attack them, sometimes in large numbers.

21. There are 14 recognized subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk. These subspecies are:

  1. Caribbean Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Alaska Red-tailed Hawk
  3. Eastern Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Canadian Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Florida Red-tailed Hawk
  6. Central American Red-tailed Hawk
  7. Fuertes’s Red-tailed Hawk
  8. Tres Marias Red-tailed Hawk
  9. Buteo jamaicensis hadropus
  10. Socorro Red-tailed Hawk
  11. Cuban Red-tailed Hawk
  12. Buteo jamaicensis kemsiesi
  13. Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk
  14. Harlan’s Hawk

22. Red-tailed Hawks have very variable plumage, sometimes related to the region they live and subspecies that they are. They are mainly brown above, pale below with streaked belly and reddish tail. However they can be all dark like the Harlan’s, or very pale all over like the Krider’s.

23. The Red-tailed hawk has a very distinctive and raspy scream that is very recognizable. Most of the time when you hear a bird of prey screech in a movie, whether it’s an eagle, hawk, or falcon being shown, you are really hearing a sound clip of a Red-tailed Hawk.

24. Red-tails are one of the largest birds of prey in North America. The females are bigger than the males but never get above around 3 lbs.

25. Many struggle to make it to adulthood with many dying before they reach a year or two old. The oldest known Red-tailed hawk lived to be 30 years old in Michigan in 2011 where it had been banded in 1981.

26. Red-tailed Hawks, like other birds of prey, have amazing eyesight. Not only can they see the colors that we can, but also colors in the ultraviolet range meaning they can see more colors than us.

27. As one of 26 North American raptors that are partial migrants, they are one of the most widely distributed hawks in the Americas.

28. They are well suited for spending long periods of time soaring high above the ground looking for prey. They can also be seen perched high up along roadsides on telephone poles waiting for their next meal to appear.

29. Most birds do not have a sense of smell but it is thought that the Red-tailed Hawk may be one of the few that have an olfactory ability (ability to smell and remember odors).

30. When diving for prey they can reach speeds of up to 120 mph.

31. Red-tailed Hawks do not fly or hunt at night time. Most activity is in the day, usually in the early hours of the morning or the afternoon.

32. The Red-tailed Hawk’s wingspan range is about 3.5 ft to 4 ft 8 in, but a large female may have a wingspan closer to 5 ft.

About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.

7 thoughts on “32 Interesting Facts About Red-tailed Hawks”

  1. We have a pair. We feed birds and used to feed crows blue dog food. We have been feeding 2 red tail hawks every day. hubby says he splits the can on each side and the pair eat it and put their foot on it, like holding the dog food down. love feeding these beauties. so neat its been 2 yrs now. they do not eat the neighbors chicken that wander in our yard and try to get their dog food. they just say hey this is mine. and the Jay’s are coming down with them getting their nuts. it so interesting. we feed same time every am. love it, so blessed to have them.

    Reply
  2. We had a nesting pair this past spring in a tall tree opposite the meadow behind our house (I live in northwest Indiana.) Two eyasses hatched. The mother and the two young are still in the area. We see them frequently, and sometimes the young walking on the ground picking up insects, brubs or whatever.

    Recently for about a week straight we heard the hawks — the juveniles, I believe — just continually screech, hour after hour, day after day. Not that long-duration signature red tail screech, but shorter, chirp-like squeaks/screeches. Very loud and virtually non-stop. (And eventually fairly annoying!) I’ve run across a number of comments by other people on the internet who have had the same experience with red tails. I (and a lot of other people, apparently) am wondering about the cause of this.

    There are many redwing blackbirds, and cowbirds and starlings, in the area that harass the hawks. In fact, the other day I saw a smaller bird actually riding on the back of one of the hawks as it flew and the hawk had a hard time ditching it. But I’m not sure the crying/calling is related to that harassment. This constant calling behavior is not something any of us have found mentioned in all the red tail literature. Anybody know what’s going on here? (They’re still pretty vocal, but not non-stop like before.)

    Reply
    • They do sometimes screech and call out of irritation when being harassed by the smaller birds. But since you said you thought they were juveniles, it could have been them begging the parents for food. Cornell online says that between the time the juveniles leave the nest and gain their full independence that they call loudly and persistently, in rapid sequence, to their parents out of hunger. Demanding little buggers 🙂 Maybe that is what you were witnessing.

      Reply
  3. Doug
    A couple years ago there was an abundance of grey squirrels in NH, and it would not be unusual to see 10 or 15 victims of road kill if you took a 10 mike trip. Also, I live on a bay in southern NH and counted 32 dead squirrels along the shoreline (1/2 mile.) Anyway, as Bald eagles and Red Tail hawks are plentiful, I started placing squirrel carcasses on my dock. The raptors began frequenting my dock and feeding on the carcasses. The Red tails now hang out on a perch I made, and I provide them with a chicken leg every so often. I figure that they are good to have around for rodent control, and they are fascinating birds.

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  4. To watch them soar – winging down from their high cliff nesting area-over our cove is truly thrilling!!!! Asheville NC .

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  5. This August morning at 7am, watching from my bedroom window, I saw a large bird hobbling out from under a big patch of weeds in the empty lot by my house. I thought it was hurt. It wasn’t until it hopped up onto a large stump with its prey that I saw things clearly. It was a red-tailed hawk with a gray squirrel under the left claw. It was walking with the right leg and dragging the squirrel with the left which is why I thought it was hobbling. The hawk stood on top of its prey for about 30 minutes until the squirrel became silent and dead. The squirrel had been making a click click meow sound the entire time. I assumed it was either warning the others or crying. It was sad but we have an abundant amount of squirrels in our neighborhood whom raid the bird feeders, dart in front of vehicles, and eat the flower bulbs. The hawk did not eat one bite of the squirrel. It hopped back down off of the stump with the squirrel, left it on the ground, and flew to a branch above and watched it for about 30 more minutes. Just to make sure it was dead I’m guessing. Then it flew away. It is now 7pm on the same day and the squirrel is still laying there. The hawk did not come back for it.
    From Surry, VA

    Reply

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