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
1. 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.
5. They are not above stealing prey from other raptors.
Red-tailed hawk habitat
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
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
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
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:
- Caribbean Red-tailed Hawk
- Alaska Red-tailed Hawk
- Eastern Red-tailed Hawk
- Canadian Red-tailed Hawk
- Florida Red-tailed Hawk
- Central American Red-tailed Hawk
- Fuertes’s Red-tailed Hawk
- Tres Marias Red-tailed Hawk
- Buteo jamaicensis hadropus
- Socorro Red-tailed Hawk
- Cuban Red-tailed Hawk
- Buteo jamaicensis kemsiesi
- Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk
- 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.