Birds of Prey

Red-tailed Hawk

Latin name: Buteo jamaicensis
Weight: Male - 1.25-2 pounds, Female - 2- 4 pounds
Wingspan: 45-52 inches
Life expectancy: 20 years

Habitat and Distribution: Red-tailed Hawks inhabit the majority of the continent except in areas of unbroken forest or tundra. They occur in a variety of habitats including woods with nearby open land, plains, prairie groves and deserts. Their preferred forest types are white pine forest and mixed hardwoods with red oak dominating. Red-tailed Hawks can often be seen perched on treetops, telephone poles and fence posts, especially along the highways.

Diet: They are known to pirate prey from other raptors and when live prey is scarce, will eat carrion (dead animals). They prey primarily on rodents and small mammals, but will also feed on reptiles, amphibians, small and medium-sized birds, large insects and occasionally fish.

Status: No special status.

Personal Biography: The New Canaan Nature Center's resident Red-tailed Hawk came to us in the summer of 2001. She had a wing partially amputated and can't fly well enough to be released in the wild. We now use the bird in educational programs.

Facts: Red-tailed Hawks are one of the largest members of hawks known as buteos, identified by broad wings and a wide, fan-like tail used for soaring. Red-tailed Hawks hunt from a high perch or while soaring in the air.

Red-tailed Hawks can be identified by their vocalization. It is a long, wheezy "kkeeeeeeer," similar to the sound of escaping steam. Movie producers often substitute a Red-tailed Hawks vocalization for an eagle's vocalization because of its majestic sound.

As with most raptors (birds that have hooked beaks, talons and catch their food with their feet), Red-tailed Hawks show sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females can be distinguished from each other. The male and female Red-tailed Hawks have similar color patterns, but differ in size. The females are generally 25% larger than the males. Sexual dimorphism enable raptors to take advantage of a wider range of food items -- males are faster and can catch more agile prey, females can handle larger, stronger animals.


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