Forest Findings: Red-tailed Hawk

4 mins read
Photo credits: National Audubon Society

By: Colleen Dabrowski

The Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk in North America. They can be found all over, including in the West Indies. In fact, Jamaica was where the hawk was first studied, according to National Geographic. The habitat of the Red-tailed Hawk is varied; they can be found anywhere that provides high perches and large open areas for hunting. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that the hawk can most commonly be spotted “perched on telephone poles, fence posts or trees.”

Red-tailed Hawks are known as such because of their striking brick-red tail. However, there are more than a dozen color variations among the species. The most common colorations are the traditional, the dark-morph and the Rufous-morph. The traditional coloration of the Red-tailed Hawk is the most recognizable of the three and the one that is found on the hawks on campus. The top of the hawk is a warm brown color, with the belly a pale, creamy color. The tail, too, is pale from underneath, with the traditional reddish color from above. The dark-morph is a variation in coloration where the hawk is fully chocolate to dark brown with the reddish tail. The Rufous-morph is described as having a reddish chest and tail with a darker belly, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Audubon Field Guide reports that the non-traditional color morphs are more common west of the Mississippi.

Red-tailed Hawks are relatively large birds. Their bodies range from 18 inches to 26 inches, with a wingspan from 38 inches to 43 inches, according to National Geographic. Red-tailed Hawks are carnivores, primarily consuming small creatures, though their diet varies depending on season and location. Red-tailed Hawks are known to consume squirrels, voles, rabbits and rats as their primary prey. Birds, reptiles and snakes are also common meals of the hawks.

Red-tail Hawks, when seeking a mate, perform extensive maneuvers in the sky, including but not limited to tossing prey from male to female and locking talons and falling several feet before releasing. Red-tailed Hawks are monogamous and evidence points to them mating for life. When they craft nests, both males and females participate in the crafting. Nests are often built very high in trees, around 120 feet up. Nests are bowl-shaped and made up of large and leafy sticks. The center is often lined with soft materials, according to the Audubon Field Guide. Each year, female hawks can lay one to five eggs. Both males and females look after the eggs for four to five weeks. After hatching, the babies will be fed and cared for by both parents for six weeks before it will be ready to leave the nest.

Red-tailed Hawks can be found all around campus. All you have to do is look up! The Forest is a prime location for these beautiful hawks, as we have plenty of tall trees, open areas for hunting and a bountiful supply of squirrels to munch on. The hawks can be found here all year round.

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