Have you ever seen a large bird soaring overhead, you hear a thrilling rasping scream (keeeeerrrrrr) and as you watch it you see a flash of red on the tail? You are probably observing one of the “buteos”, an adult red-tailed hawk (juveniles or young red-tailed hawks have brown tails crossed by darker horizontal bars). A “buteo” is a hawk with broad wings and broad, rounded tails. Other hawks from this area that are “buteos” are red-shouldered hawks, broad-winged and rough-legged hawks. Buteos soar in the air by riding warm currents of rising air called “thermals”. Remember that hot air rises, you can see this happening when you boil water or just look at a cup of hot chocolate. In order to use these “thermals” they need as much surface area as possible – broad, or wide, wings and broad tails.
Red-tailed hawks are predators. They usually locate their prey while soaring or watching from a perch. Prey consists of small to mediums sized mammals – mice, voles, rats, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels, amphibians, reptiles…I saw one capture a snake, insects and sometimes dead stuff -carrion. Red-tailed hawks may spend hours soaring over meadows and fields looking for prey only to swoop down and catch it, with their sharp talons, in less than a minute.
Male and female red-tailed hawks look the same, but the female is larger. Usually weigh 1.5 – 3.2 lbs., 17-26 inches tall, wingspan 45-52″. How does the wingspan compare to how tall you are?
They select the largest and tallest trees for building stick nests. The female will lay 1-4 eggs and both male and females will incubate the eggs and feed the young. Although the females tend to sit on the eggs more often. They fledge, or leave the nest in about 6 weeks. Their average age is about 12 years. The oldest wild red-tailed hawk was at least 30 years, 8 months. They had put a leg band on the bird and it was recaptured so that is how we know the age.
Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk in North America and can even be found living among the skyscrapers in New York City!