The Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk | Dennis W Donohue

The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in North America.  This hawk can be seen possibly sitting on a fence post, anytime you take a drive along a highway in most of the United States. I don’t think I’ve ever driven across I-70 in Kansas that I haven’t seen several hawks along the way West, on fences and in the air looking for dinner. This hawk lives as far north as northern Canada and into Alaska, and as far south as the West Indies and Panama.

An adult red-tailed hawk | Robert L Kothenbeutel

You can see the Red-Tailed Hawk soaring in a circular motion overhead. They also like to perch on top of old telephone poles to get a “bird’s eye” view of the ground below for any movement of a mouse, rabbit, or mole. Even though they eat mammals, dogs and cats are safe. They usually don’t come near homes and a Red-Tailed Hawk female only weigh about 3 pounds. The male weighs even less. This bird seems large in the air because of their wing span, but the Hawk is not dense.

Red-Tailed Hawks can see colors almost as well as humans can and their color range goes into ultra-violet colors, which is beyond what humans can see with the naked eye. They can also see black and white well enough so they are able to hunt at dusk. Their eyelids have a self cleaning ability, so when they are in pursuit of catching a small rodent or squirrel, their eyes stay clear while they are wrestling with their dinner. Some scientists believe the Red-Tailed Hawk actually has a sense of smell, unlike other birds of prey.  

Red-tailed Hawk | Phoo Chan

Red-Tailed Hawks love the open air and open fields. They have a shrill calling sound that is distinct. It sounds almost like the raptor sound we have heard from the Jurassic Park movies.

These birds actually live in trees, so while we find them soaring above open fields, their homes are in the woodlands nearby. You are not going to find as many Red-Tailed Hawks in parts of the country where there aren’t as many trees. They need the trees and open fields combined. One for nesting and the other for hunting. If you happen to see egg shells that are light green on the inside, they are probably from a Red-Tailed Hawk’s nest.

Red-Tailed Hawk Perched in Trees | FotoRequest

They usually hunt in pairs. Where you see one Red-Tailed Hawk soaring, you might see another nearby. The Red-Tailed Hawk tends to live in the same general area for life within a 9-mile square radius. And, they usually stay with the same mate during that time. The average lifespan is about 12 years in the wild. However, the oldest Red-Tailed Hawk that was banded was checked at 30 years old in 2011.

An adult mated pair of red-tailed hawks | Boyce’s Images

The Red-Tailed Hawk has few enemies, but crows often invade their nests for eggs, and Owls actually attack younglings to eat. An owl or a crow will often destroy the nest of the hawk in order to take over the site.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is legally protected in Canada, the United States, and Mexico by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This Act signed in 1918, makes it unlawful to hunt, take, capture, kill or sell birds listed as migratory birds. The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests. Over 800 species are currently on the list (Migratory Bird Act Treaty of 1918).