Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

The most common and widespread hawk in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk is a bird of open country. It is frequently seen sitting on utility poles where it watches for rodents in the grass along the roadside.

Interesting Information

  • The "Harlan's Hawk" was once considered a separate species. It breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada, and winters on the southern Great Plains. This very dark form has a marbled white, brown, and gray tail instead of a red one. Many individuals intermediate between Harlan's and more typical Red-tailed Hawks can be found.

  • The raspy cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is used in movies to represent any eagle or hawk anywhere in the world.

  • In the courtship display a pair of Red-tailed Hawks soars in wide circles at a great height. The male dives down in a steep drop, then shoots up again at nearly as steep an angle. He repeats this maneuver several times, then approaches the female from above. He extends his legs and touches or grasps her briefly. The pair may grab onto one other and may interlock their talons and spiral toward the ground.


Adult Description

  • Size: 45-65 cm (18-26 in)

  • Wingspan: 114-133 cm (45-52 in)

  • Weight: 690-1460 g (24.36-51.54 ounces)

  • Large hawk.

  • Wings long and broad.

  • Tail broad and red.

  • Most commonly with pale chest and dark band across belly.

  • Extremely variable in appearance with light and dark forms.

  • Tail reddish on top, with dark band near end.

  • Tail lighter red below; unbanded.

Sex Differences

Sexes look alike; female larger.

Color Differences

Light forms: Head darkish brown. Throat dark or white. Chest white or with rusty streaks. Dark band of streaks across belly variable, from very dark to nearly absent. Dark patches at leading edge of wing, and dark trailing edge. Back dark brown with white mottling; white forming loose "V" on shoulders. May show pale eyestripe.

Dark form: Dark brown all over. May be rufous on chest. Tail red on top. In flight, front of wings dark, flight feathers pale, with dark trailing edge.

"Harlan's Hawk" is a dark form without red on tail.


Juvenile similar to adult, but more streaked, and has brown tail with several dark bars across it.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Found in open areas with scattered elevated perches, including agricultural areas, fields, pasture, parkland, broken woodland, and scrub desert.


Sit-and-wait predator, usually watching from elevated perch. Also hovers in strong wind.


Small and medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Buteo
Species: Buteo jamaicensis
    Subspecies: Buteo jamaicensis alascensis
  Buteo jamaicensis borealis
  Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  Buteo jamaicensis fuertesi
  Buteo jamaicensis harlani
  Buteo jamaicensis jamaicensis
  Buteo jamaicensis kriderii
  Buteo jamaicensis umbrinus

Similar Species

Red-shouldered Hawk has a banded tail and is more uniformly colored. Red tail separates dark form from all other hawks.

Bird Sound

Call a raspy, scraping, screamed "kree-eee-ar."

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution

Bird Sound

Call a raspy, scraping, screamed "kree-eee-ar."