Class: Aves (Birds)
Body length: 18 to 22 inches (45 to 55 centimeters)
Wingspan: 47 to 56 inches (120 to 141 centimeters)
Weight: male—2.4 to 2.6 pounds (1.1 to 1.2 kilograms); female—2.8 to 3.3 pounds (1.3 to 1.5 kilograms)
Life span: 12 years in the wild; up to 29 years in zoos
Number of eggs laid: 2 to 3
Incubation: 30 days
Age of maturity: 1 to 2 years
Conservation status: lower risk
The first red-tailed hawks were identified in Jamaica,
West Indies. This is how the bird gets its species name, jamaicensis !
Ferruginous hawks Buteo regalis and red-tailed hawks share the title of "largest hawks" in North America.
While most birds have no sense of smell, some scientists believe that hawks may have some olfactory ability.
Hawk eggshells are tinted green on the inside!
The powerful cry of a red-tailed hawk is the same cry used in TV commercials depicting bald eagles. Advertisers feel the hawk's voice sounds more regal and eagle-like than the eagle's!
Birds: Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks are common in San Diego County and throughout North America, whether perched on a pole, soaring overhead, or just a distant, high-pitched "kkeeer..." heard from beyond the trees. These raptors, or birds of prey, have keen eyesight, binocular vision, talons for grabbing prey, and sharp beaks.
Wide variations in color and pattern can be found in different regions of North and Central America, but all adult red-tailed hawks have the reddish brown tails that give them their common name. From nearly white to black in color, these raptors range from Alaska to Panama and from California to the West Indies. Red-tails living in San Diego County have a brown back and tan underside with brown and black stripes.
Eyes like a hawk!
Red-tailed hawks, like all raptors, have excellent vision. They can see colors, like most humans can, as well as the ultraviolet range. This means that the hawks can perceive colors that humans cannot see. Red-tailed hawks are diurnal hunters but see black and white well enough to also hunt at dusk, the time when nocturnal animals, especially rodents, begin to awaken and move around. These predators have a nictitating membrane. This clear inner lid cleans the eye and protects it while the hawk is wrestling with its prey.
Red-tailed hawks eat mostly rodents. To stay alive, the hawk has to find the prey, catch it, and defend it from other hawks long enough to make it a meal. Half of all red-tails do not make it through their first year of life.
Home is where the territory is
Red-tailed hawks tend to keep the same territories their whole lives. These territories can be as large as 9.6 square miles (25 square kilometers). The birds defend their area with aerial displays of steep dives and climbs, the males and females gliding together. Red-tails pair up for life and their aerial courtships are much like their territorial displays.
Growing up red-tailed
A red-tailed hawk chick hatches from a grayish white, speckled egg in a large, bulky nest. The nest can be up to 3 feet (1 meter) across and is made of twigs and branches, lined with bark. It sits high in a tree, up to 70 feet (21 meters) above the ground. In more open areas, nests can be built atop a cactus, shrub, or cliff ledge.
Once the chicks hatch, it's a busy time for the red-tailed parents. Chicks are altricial, but grow and fledge quickly: young hawks begin to leave the nest in about 45 days! At that stage, chicks begin to chase parents for food, and the adults will drop food for the young to catch. With a full stomach, the young play-chase things that look like prey. As the young develop, the parents begin to hunt and drop live prey for the chicks to chase and catch. The more skilled the young become, the less the parents will do this, forcing the chicks to hunt on their own.
Hey, where's my red tail?
Interestingly, juvenile red-tailed hawks, no matter where they live, do not have red tails. In fact, they are a much lighter color than their parents but their feathers change color gradually over several molts. The juveniles' hunting style also changes as they mature. As young hawks, they tend to hover high above the ground and grab at mice, large insects, reptiles, and whatever they can snag. Adults soar and may swoop down to grab birds or even bats in flight, but they most often fly powerfully from a perch, then glide and snatch their meal from the ground. Red-tailed hawks eat a wide variety of rodents, birds, reptiles, and even insects and fish at the water's edge. Red-tails at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are fed a commercial ground meat product made for birds of prey.
Keep wild places wild
While common and even numerous in North America, red-tailed hawks, like all wildlife, are vulnerable to hunters, loss of habitat, environmental toxins, and, especially for young hawks, cars. The preservation of wild places, whether plains or meadows, vast forests or city parks, provides hunting and nesting sites for these and many other wild creatures.