Resident or short-distance migrant. Most birds from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains fly south for a few months in winter, remaining in North America. Birds across the rest of the continent typically stay put, sharing the countryside with northern arrivals.
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.
Report your sightings of Red-tailed Hawks to eBird
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Naturalist’s Notebook: Red-Tailed Hawk Plays Defense, Living Bird, Spring 2008.
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.
These 8 Unexpected Migration Routes Give You Reason to Go Birding in Summer, All About Birds, July 16, 2014.
Raptors of Winter, All About Birds, January 12, 2015.
Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.
ID Tips for Raptor-Watching Season: Use Tail and Wing Shape, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.