Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Prepared by Paul Nicholson, London Bird Team, August 2022.

The Red-tailed Hawk is named for the rust-coloured tail of the adult bird. All photos by PAUL NICHOLSON

The Red-tailed Hawk is thought to be the most common hawk in North America. It can be seen across Canada. London birders are able to see this bird in good numbers in all 12 months of the year. The Red-tail is a year-round resident of the lower 48 states of the U.S. plus Mexico and the Caribbean. We do witness them migrating in the spring and late fall, since many of the Red-tails that breed to the north of us migrate into the U.S.

 

At 50 cm in length, this is a large bird. Its silhouette in flight is a classic buteo shape with rounded (not pointy) wings and a fan-shaped (not narrow) tail.

 

Red-tailed Hawks are well-named. Adults have a rust-coloured tail that is visible when the bird is perching or flying. First-year birds have narrow bands across a brown tail. Other typical field marks of the adult include a brown back – often with some splotching – and light plumage below with some contrasting dark feathers across the chest and belly.

 

There are several subspecies of the Red-tail. It is also possible to observe different color morphs such as a dark morph bird.

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Young Red-tailed Hawks have narrow bands across a brownish tail.

Red-tails are a vocal bird of prey. You might hear its high-pitched screeching call overhead before you see the bird.

 

Listen to the Red-tailed Hawk’s vocalization below:

Red-tailed Hawks are opportunistic carnivores. The primary part of their diet is small mammals such as mice, moles, rats, squirrels, and rabbits. They favor hunting from a tall perch.

 

The Red-tailed Hawk is not a species at risk in Ontario however they still face a range of mortal threats. Some hawks are killed annually through collisions. Other Red-tails die because they have eaten mammals that been killed by poisoned bait.

 

The bird can be seen across the city and throughout Middlesex County. Watch for these hawks perched on hydro wires or fenceposts, or soaring in the sky.

 

Red-tailed Hawks usually locate a large nest at a height. It might be in a tall tree or a cliff ledge or even on a building. In Southwestern Ontario, the nesting dates are approximately April 15 to July 31.

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Red-tailed Hawks have powerful feet and sharp talons. Like other raptors, they catch and kill prey with their feet and rip into flesh with a strong, curved beak.

Learn more about the Red-tailed Hawk’s life history.

 

Help make London more Red-tailed Hawk friendly:

  • Avoid use of pesticides, especially rodenticide / rat poison.

  • Retrofit building windows at home or at work using bird-friendly materials to prevent bird-window collisions.

  • Never throw garbage or food out of your car window; it may attract animals to roadsides that raptors hunt, putting them at risk of collisions with vehicles.

  • Pick up litter, especially plastic stringy materials that birds may become tangled in.

  • Reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible.