Beak of the Week – Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Family: Accipitridae

Red-tailed Hawks are the most familiar and common large hawk in North America. Like other members of the genus Buteo, they have broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail. Most Red-tailed Hawks are rich brown above and pale underneath with a streaked belly. The most defining ID characteristic is the red tail, but juveniles’ tails are pale below and brown above. Another identifying characteristic is a dark bar between shoulder and wrist on the underside of the wings, which is present in both adults and juveniles. Red-tailed Hawks make a raspy screaming kee-eeeee-arr call which is often used in Hollywood productions for not just Red-tailed Hawks, but also eagles and other raptors.

Red-tailed Hawks can be found in almost any open habitat, including desert, grasslands, roadsides, fields and pastures, and broken woodland. Their diet is mostly mammals such as mice, rats, rabbits, voles, and ground squirrels, although they occasionally eat birds up to the size of a pheasant. They also eat reptiles, especially snakes. Red-tailed Hawks often hunt by watching from a high perch, or flying over a field, then swooping down to catch prey.

Red-tailed Hawk courtship is an impressive display with pairs sometimes grabbing onto one other, clasping talons, and plummeting in spirals toward the ground before pulling away. Pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies. Pairs create large stick nests at the top of tall trees or reuse old nests.

Red-tailed Hawks can be found in every state in the continental United States. They are common and widespread with increasing populations. They can be found in Texas year-round, but numbers increase in the winter as hawks from the far north migrate south. Look for them perched on roadside poles or soaring over open fields the next time you are on your way to visit one of Houston Audubon’s sanctuaries!

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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