Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Copyright, Jim Roetzel

Red-tailed Hawks are most often seen soaring high above the ground, looking for food. They are very difficult to identify unless they come closer to the earth.

This raptor grows up to 25 inches long and can weigh up to four pounds (heavy for a bird; remember, they have hollow bones!). Its wingspan can reach four feet.

Red-tailed Hawks are large, stocky birds. They are brown with a white breast and a rust-colored tail. If you can get close enough, the tail is the best way to identify them. Young Red-tailed Hawks are more dull in color, have more streaks, and are missing the red in their tails.

Red-tailed Hawks live in forests near open country. Nests are usually built near the edge of a stream, lake, or field.

Copyright, DesertUSA.COM

This hawk soars very high in the sky, hunting for food. They have excellent eyesight which is much sharper than a human's. A Red-tailed Hawk can spot a mouse from a height of 100 feet.

These hawks also hunt from perches, usually alongside a field. Most of their prey are small mammals, including: mice, voles, shrews, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, rabbits, opossums, muskrats, cats, skunks, and bats.

Copyright 2004, George W. Hartwell

Although they eat mostly mammals, there is a great variety of other animals Red-tailed Hawks will prey upon, including: snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards, salamanders, toads, ducks, bobwhite, crows, woodpeckers, starlings, doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, kingfishers, robins, owls, other birds, crayfish, centipedes, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, earthworms, and fish.

Red-tailed Hawks will also eat roadkill and other carrion (previously dead, but fairly fresh animals).

Copyright, Illinois Raptor Center

B. Lundrigan

Red-tailed Hawks mate in the Spring. They perform a sort of courtship "dance" where the male and female dive and roll in the sky. They will even lock talons (sharp toes) and fall together awhile before splitting apart. Both the male and female build the nest. They usually choose a very tall tree, such as an oak or pine, or a rock ledge.

Nests are built with sticks and lined with twigs, bark shreds, pine needles, and green plant material. The female hawk lays two or three white eggs with brown spots.

While the female warms the eggs (for up to a month), the male hunts and feeds her.

Copyright, Illinois Raptor Center

Copyright, Illinois Raptor Center

Copyright, Illinois Raptor Center

Young hawks stay in the nest for approximately one and a half months.

Once they leave the nest, the youngsters hop around a lot on the ground, looking for small prey such as insects and spiders. When they have perfected flying, they will begin to hunt larger prey from the air.

Predators of Red-tailed Hawks include Raccoons, Great Horned Owls, and Red Fox. Red-tailed Hawks can live up to 15 years in the wild.

These hawks swallow smaller prey whole. Birds are beheaded, then eaten. Larger prey are killed with talons, and then pulled into pieces with the hawk's sharp, hooked beak.

Red-tailed Hawks will steal from other raptors, such as eagles, owls, or other hawks.

Copyright, David Spier

This snow print was left after a Red-tailed Hawk made a mouse kill. See if you can find the following:

Point of impact

Mouse tracks

Wing feather imprints

Tail feather imprints

Mated Red-tailed Hawks will sometimes work together while hunting. An example might be chasing a squirrel around a tree until one of the hawks can catch it.

Red-tailed Hawks throw up pellets. When they swallow prey whole, they regurgitate (throw up) small balls of hair, feathers, and bone.

Red-tailed Hawks are verry territorial. They will chase other Red-tailed Hawks and birds larger than them that get too close.

Copyright, Glenn and Martha Vargas, California Academy of Sciences

Additional Media

Red-tailed Hawk Call
Red-tailed Hawk Eating Prey
Phil Heine
Red-tailed Hawk Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:


Meadow Vole


Black Oak

Great Horned Owl EC

White-footed Mouse

Great Horned Owl

White Oak

Sharp-shinned Hawk EC

Least Shrew

Red Fox

Southern Red Oak

Barred Owl EC

Eastern Mole

American Crow

Eastern White Pine

Bald Eagle EC

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Virginia Pine

Eastern Cottontail

Yellow Poplar

Eastern Chipmunk

American Sycamore

Red-winged Blackbird

Eastern Redcedar

American Robin

American Elm

Pileated Woodpecker

Mockernut Hickory

Belted Kingfisher

Willow Oak

Barred Owl

Black Rat Snake




Channel Catfish

Differential Grasshopper


European Starling

Relationship to Humans:

Red-tailed Hawks are very helpful to people as controllers of rodent (mice, rats, squirrels, etc.) populations. For awhile they were becoming endangered because of pesticides and other chemicals used by humans, which were working their way up the food chain.

Whenever you hear a raptor call on a TV commercial or in a movie, it is most likely a Red-tailed Hawk's call, regardless of what bird you are seeing.


Buteo jamaicensis


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