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Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

This is probably the most common hawk in North America. If you’ve got sharp eyes you’ll see several individuals on almost any long car ride, anywhere. Red-tailed Hawks soar above open fields, slowly turning circles on their broad, rounded wings. Other times you’ll see them atop telephone poles, eyes fixed on the ground to catch the movements of a vole or a rabbit, or simply waiting out cold weather before climbing a thermal updraft into the sky.

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Calls

  • Scream
  • Adult scream
  • Scolding call
  • Call of 11-day-old chick
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Adults make a hoarse, screaming kee-eeeee-arr. It lasts 2-3 seconds and is usually given while soaring. During courtship, they also make a shrill chwirk, sometimes giving several of these calls in a row.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

You’re unlikely to see this bird in your backyard (unless yours is a big one). Red-tailed Hawks eat mostly mammals, so they’re less likely to visit a popular feeder than a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned hawk is. It’s very rare for a Red-tailed Hawk to go after dogs or cats.

Find This Bird

The best way to find a Red-tailed Hawk is to go for a drive, keeping your eyes peeled along fenceposts and in the sky. Chances are good that the first hawk you see will be a Red-tailed Hawk. Just make sure to look for the buteo shape (broad, rounded wings; short tail), then check field marks like the dark bars on the leading edge of the wing. Across most of the continent, Red-tails are more numerous in winter, when birds from the far north arrive to join the birds that live in your area year round.

Get Involved

Report your sightings of Red-tailed Hawks to eBird

Are you watching Red-tailed Hawks in a city? Participate in art, cultural, and science activities through Celebrate Urban Birds!

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A Naturalists Notebook: Red-tailed Hawk

A Red-tailed Hawk called Pale Male is one of the most famous residents of New York City (and shares an apartment building with Woody Allen). There are many websites about him, including his own Wikipedia page and a page that accompanies a PBS documentary about him.

Hawks can have extremely variable plumages, and we’ve only described the main varieties in this account. For much more thorough descriptions, consult any of the following hawk ID books: Raptors of Eastern North America or Raptors of Western North America, Hawks in Flight, or Hawks from Every Angle or visit the online Hawks in Flight Gallery.