Vancouver Avian Research Centre

.....Research - Conservation - Education
 Species: Red-tailed Hawk  Buteo jamaicensis


The Red-tailed Hawk is a common hawk of North America.  It is widespread, occupying a large range of habitats from central Alaska, south to Venezuela and east to the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. 


General:  A stout-bodied, broad-winged Buteo.  Length: males, 45-56cm and females, 50-65cm.  Weight: males, 690-1300g and females, 900-1460g.  Wingspan: 100-141cm. 

Adult male:  Plumage variation is widespread.  Generally, the breast is pale and the head is dark. Overall, it is dark brown with light mottling above, most typically light below with a dark bellyband.  The upper side of its tail is rufous with a narrow dark band and light tip.  There is a dark mark on the inner front edge of the under-wing. Its eyes are brown. 

Adult female: Sexes are similar. 

Juvenile:  Similar to adults but upperparts are distinctly mottled with white and has a white V on the scapulars.  The breast is usually shining white and the underparts are more streaked and spotted.  The tail is gray or gray-brown with narrow dusky bars. And its eyes are yellow. 

Similar species:  The common Red-tail Hawk with its large variation in plumage and size can provide a reference point for comparison of other buteos.  With that in mind, various phases, morphs and ranges of Ferruginous, Swainsons and Rough-legged Hawks should be studied and compared with the Red-tail. 

Behaviour:  Primarily a sit-and-wait predator, this hawk generally requires an elevated perch for hunting.  It alights from the perch with powerful wing beats, and then glides snatching prey from the ground with its talons.  In closed canopy tropical forests the Red-tail dives on prey from the air high above the canopy.  It may also catch bats and other highly concentrated, flying prey in the air. 

Habitat:  This bird occupies a large variety of habitats.  Commonly it is a bird of open and wooded areas, particularly wood edges.  Red-tails are seen conspicuously perched atop trees, hydro and telephone poles or other similar structures while hunting.  They can be found in any habitat that provides open ground for hunting and an elevation for perching.  Its diet is small and medium sized mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods and fresh carrion. 


The Red-tailed Hawk varies greatly across its range with up to 16 subspecies recognized.  Races are usually distinguished by ventral colouration, tail markings and/or size, but there is no clear geographical trend in any of these characters. Migration is diurnal. 

Courtship displays consist of a series of steep dives and climbs and include glides by both adults together with their feet down sounding shrill cries. 

The nest is located high in a tree or other high structure.  It is a bulky bowl of sticks, built by both sexes and lined with finer materials.

Two to three white eggs, blotched with brown are laid. 


Global populations are 2 million or more and considered stable or slightly increasing.

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