Red-tailed Hawk Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsRed-tailed Hawks occupy just about every type of open habitat on the continent. This includes desert, scrublands, grasslands, roadsides, fields and pastures, parks, broken woodland, and (in Mexico) tropical rainforest.Back to top

Food

Food Small AnimalsMammals make up the bulk of most Red-tailed Hawk meals. Frequent victims include voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. The hawks also eat birds, including pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds; as well as snakes and carrion. Individual prey items can weigh anywhere from less than an ounce to more than 5 pounds.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeRed-tailed Hawks typically put their nests in the crowns of tall trees where they have a commanding view of the landscape. They may also nest on a cliff ledge or on artificial structures such as window ledges and billboard platforms.

Nest Description

Both members build the nest, or simply refurbish one of the nests they’ve used in previous years. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across. The inner cup is lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation. Construction takes 4-7 days.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.2-2.7 in (5.5-6.8 cm)
Egg Width:1.7-2.0 in (4.3-5 cm)
Incubation Period:28-35 days
Nestling Period:42-46 days
Egg Description:White or buffy, blotched or speckled with buff, brown, or purple.
Condition at Hatching:Tiny and helpless, unable to raise head, and weighing about 2 ounces.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior Soaring (raptor)Red-tailed Hawks are large, sharp-taloned birds that can be aggressive when defending nests or territories. They frequently chase off other hawks, eagles, and Great Horned Owls. Courting birds fly with legs hanging beneath them, or chase and swoop after each other, sometimes locking talons (see Cool Facts). Mated pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernRed-tailed Hawk populations increased throughout much of their range between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2.3 million with 75% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 24% in Canada, and 21% in Mexico. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Red-tailed Hawk is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List. Back to top

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.

Back to top

Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane. 2009. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

Back to top