Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
Their brick-red tails (where the common name comes from) appear after the second year molt.
You’ve most likely heard the call of this beautiful bird without even knowing it. The call of the red-tailed hawk is commonly used in movies and television to represent every bird of prey, regardless of species.
STATUS: Not endangered. Red-tails and all birds of prey are protected under the U.S Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
HABITAT: Red-tailed hawks are the most common birds of prey (raptors) in North America, ranging from Northern Canada, south of the Arctic regions, throughout the United States and as far south as Panama. They can be found almost anywhere you look – sitting on a dead tree in a meadow, a cactus in the desert, on a treetop in a forest or a canyon, or even on that telephone pole you just passed driving down the freeway!
DIET: All raptors are carnivorous; the red-tailed hawk’s diet consists of small rodents (rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and mice), snakes, and lizards. They have also been known to dine on birds of varying sizes.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Red-tails are the largest of the soaring raptors; they range in size from 18 – 26 inches long and weigh around 2 – 4 pounds. Their wingspan is approximately 45 – 56 inches. Males and females are the same color, but females are 1/3 larger than the males – a trait seen in all raptors. They have sharp, hooked beaks used for tearing apart their prey. Their legs are yellow and their feet have long, sharp talons used to kill prey. Eye color ranges from yellow (juveniles) to brown or dark orange (adults). Red-tails’ plumage coloration has the broadest variations of any raptor, especially in the western regions. The feathers on the back, head and top of the wings are a dark, sometimes mottled, brown, while the color of the breast can range from a light buff color to a dark reddish-brown and everything in between. Most subspecies have a dark, streaked band across the belly. The undersides of the wings are almost white in color with a dark band around the edge of the wing and another in the middle (called a patagial mark, it resembles a “comma” on each wing and is unique to these birds).
Home Sweet Home
Red-tails nest in the tops of tall trees; the nests are built of branches, twigs, and leaves and are re-used each year. They are, however, becoming more adapted to urban nesting and are seen more frequently on building ledges. A pair of red-tails has been nesting in the spire atop the Westwood Theater in Westwood for several years!