Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Description 4

As is the case with many raptors, the red-tailed hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, as females are up to 25% larger than males. Though the markings and hue vary across the subspecies, the basic appearance of the red-tailed hawk is consistent. Overall, this species is blocky and broad in shape, often appearing (and being) heavier than other Buteos of similar length. A whitish underbelly with a dark brown band across the belly, formed by horizontal streaks in feather patterning, is present in most color variations. Especially in younger birds, the underside may be otherwise covered with dark brown spotting. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and light buff-orange below. The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors, and the head can sometimes appear small in size against the thick body frame. They have a relatively short, broad tails and thick, chunky wings. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the red-tailed hawk are all yellow.

Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature red-tailed hawk is patterned with numerous darker bars.

Behaviour 5

Adult red-tailed hawks make what is called a horse scream, "kee-eeee-arrr." It is often described as sounding like a steam whistle. The length and pitch of this call varies with the age, gender, and geographic region of the individual red-tailed hawk.

Young red-tailed hawks communicate with their parents by making soft, low "peep"-ing sounds. As they get older, they sounds they make deepen in tone, and are usually sounds of hunger.

Red-tailed hawks also communicate through body language. In an aggressive posture, the body and head of the  red-tailed hawk are held upright and its feathers are standing up. In submission, the hawk's head is lower to the ground and the feathers are smooth. Red-tailed hawks also display many aerial behaviors. In the talon-drop, during courtship, they swoop down trying to touch one another with their talons. Undulating-flight is an up and down movement that is mainly used in territorial display. Finally, in the dive-display the bird performs a steep dive. This is also a territorial display.

Red-tailed hawks have extraordinarily keen vision, which allows them to detect prey movements at great distances.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Andrew C, some rights reserved (CC BY),
  2. (c) sarbhloh, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND),
  3. (c) Chuck Roberts. (3/3/32 - 12/4/13), some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND),
  4. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  5. (c) The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),

More Info

Range Map

iNatCA Map

Animal Bird
Color brown, red, white
Bird Accipitridae (hawk harrier & eagles)