Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Chicken-hawk, Harlan’s hawk

Buteo jamaicensis
Population size
2.3 Mlnlnn
Life Span
12-28 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey that breeds throughout most of North America. It is one of the most common members within the genus of Buteo in North America or worldwide. The Red-tailed hawk is one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk", though it rarely preys on standard-sized chickens. Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, in the United States these birds are the most commonly captured hawks for falconry. Falconers are permitted to take only passage hawks (which have left the nest, are on their own, but are less than a year old) so as to not affect the breeding population.


Red-tailed hawks, especially those in the West, have a very variable plumage, including reddish brown and dark phases. Their wings are long and broad and their tails are short and wide. Most have light-colored breasts with dark streaks making a mottled "belly band". Most of them have dark brown heads. Their underwings are mottled light and dark. They all have a dark band on the outside edge of the inner underwings, called the "patagial" markings. On most adults, the upper side of their tail is deep rufous. Lighter birds often feature a faint white "V" as part of their back feathers, as seen when they are perching. Juveniles don't have a red tail.




Red-tailed hawk is one of the most common hawks in North America. They are found all over the continent, as well as in Central America, and in the Caribbean. Many birds remain in their areas all year, but birds in the far north migrate during autumn to avoid the harsh winter. These hawks occupy a vast range of habitats within a wide range of altitudes, including scrub deserts, montane grasslands, plains, agricultural fields, pastures, patchy deciduous and coniferous woodlands, coastal regions, urban parks, and tropical rainforests.

Red-Tailed Hawk habitat map
Red-Tailed Hawk habitat map
Red-Tailed Hawk
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Habits and Lifestyle

Red-tailed hawks are diurnal. They will soar above their territory, usually on clear days, keeping a lookout for intruders. They are mostly solitary but are social during the breeding season and migration. These hawks prefer to form their nests in wooded fence rows at the edge of forests, or in large trees within open areas. Pairs will stay together for years within the same territory. They are very territorial, defending territories that range from 0.85 to 3.9 square kilometers, based on the availability of food, perches, and sites for nests. The female is more aggressive than the male around the nest, while the male is more aggressive with regard to the territory boundaries.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Red-tailed hawks are carnivores, their diet varying with the location and the season. They eat small mammals including voles, rats, ground squirrels and rabbits, birds, and reptiles, especially snakes, bats, frogs, toads, and insects. They may feed on carrion.

Mating Habits

28-32 days
42-46 days
1-5 eggs

Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and stay with the same partner for many years. They soar together in circles during courtship, their flights lasting 10 minutes and more. Mating usually occurs following these flights. Breeding and nest building starts in early spring, usually in March, continuing through May. Usually, 1-5 eggs are laid. Incubation lasts 28-32 days, carried out almost exclusively by the female. The male supplies most of the food for the mother and the chicks during the nestling stage. The chicks can leave the nest in 42 to 46 days. At 10 weeks they fledge and learn to hunt and fly. They become reproductively mature and start to breed at 3 years of age.


Population threats

While fairly numerous in North America, these hawks, like all wildlife, are threatened by hunters, loss of habitat, pollution, and cars. Red-tailed hawks control populations of rodents and grasshoppers and have protection under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Population number

According to AllAboutBirds, the estimated global breeding population is 2.3 million. 75% spend part of each year in the U.S., 21% in Mexico, and 24% in Canada. The ICUN classifies the Red-tailed hawk as "Least Concern", with an increasing population trend.

Ecological niche

Red-tailed hawks have an important part to play in local ecosystems by controlling populations of small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits. They benefit farmers by eating moles, mice, and other rodents that threaten crops. They also provide habitat for several small bird species, such as house sparrows that live alongside hawks in their nests.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The hawk eggshells are colored green on the inside.
  • The Red-tailed hawk's cry is used in TV commercials depicting the bald eagle, as advertisers felt that the red-tailed hawk's voice sounded more regal and eagle-like than that of the actual bird.
  • Hawks can't move their eyes and so to look around they must move their heads.
  • Hawks will fight over food in the air.
  • Red-tailed hawks don't need to eat every day. Excess food is stored in their crop and released as needed.


1. Red-Tailed Hawk Wikipedia article -
2. Red-Tailed Hawk on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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