Red-tailed hawk

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Profile

The red-tailed hawks is a medium sized raptor living in almost all of North America. These birds are colored with white and brown all over their body. The shade of brown ranges from dark brown on their shoulders to a reddish-brown on their chest. There are some genetically different individuals that are completely chocolate brown except for the red tail. The picture below shows how these birds got their name. Their tails are reddish-brown. These birds are also known as buzzard hawks, California hawks, chicken hawks, or red hawks. No matter what you call this animal, it has 16 different subspecies scattered across its large range. Not every subspecies has a red tail, and juveniles do not have this distinguishing factor either.

 

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Range

The range of the red-tailed hawk covers almost all of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands. The only parts of North America that are not part of this bird’s range are northern Canada, northern and western Alaska, Hawaii, and Greenland.

Habitat

These birds live in almost every habitat in its range. They can be found in deserts, grasslands, roadsides, parks, and loosely wooded areas. Dense forests are not often home to these birds, but sparse trees are acceptable.

Size

Female red-tailed hawks are slightly larger than males. This is common for birds of prey. Males range from 21 to 24 inches (54-60 cm) in length and weigh from 24-46 ounces (690-1,300 g). Females range from 20 to 26 inches (50-65 cm) and weigh from 31 to 52 ounces (900 -1,460 g). Regardless of gender, wingspan ranges from 41 to 53 inches (105-135 cm).

Diet

Red-tailed hawks eat a large variety of animals, using their claws as weapons to capture their next meal. Eighty to eighty-five percent of this bird’s diet consists of small rodents. Other prey may include reptiles, carrion, fish, large insects, other birds, and mammals up to the size of adult rabbits. The most common bird preyed on is the male red-winged black-bird. This is because they are so visible when protecting their nest. Almost all of the red-tailed hawk’s hunting is done from a perch. If the prey attacked is too large to eat immediately, these hawks will not save the food for later like some other raptors do.

Status and threats

The  Red-tailed hawk is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Previously, these birds were hunted by humans as they were assumed to be threatening livestock. As I said in the above paragraph, the largest animals they eat are rabbit size, and livestock are not that small. Unlike most animals, this species actually profits from deforestation. Because dense forest are not suitable habitat for these birds, less forested area means more habitable area. Currently the number of red-tailed hawks in the wild is declining due to a variety of reasons. Illegal hunting, pollution, electrocution, and collisions with vehicles are current threats to this bird. The severity of these threats is unknown, however. Natural threats mainly consist of predation of other raptors on this bird’s eggs and nestlings. Despite threats, these birds are considered the most common bird of prey in the Americas.

Mating, eggs, and young

Red-tailed hawk breeding season occurs in the early spring, but the exact timing varies by latitude. Pairs take part in elaborate aerial dances that first involve both the male and the female soaring in circles at great heights. The male then preforms a series of dives. After each one, he shoots back up to the female’s level. The couple then grab legs and plummet toward the earth while spinning. They pull away in time to prevent crashing. Pairs mate for life, but if one member of the pair dies, its former partner quickly finds a replacement. Both adults work together to build the nest that is normally located in the not of a tall tree. This gives them a good view of the surrounding land to help them spot predators or prey. During this season, these birds are highly territorial.

One to five eggs (usually two or three) are laid and incubated for four to five weeks. In between the ages of 42 and 48 days, the young learn how to fly, but they do not become independent for another 30 to 70 days. At two years of age, red-tailed hawks are ready to mate. These animals can live up to 30 years in the wild.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Red-tailed hawk – Ram-Man
  • Red-tailed hawk back – Public Domain
  • Mystery animal – Sheri
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