Red-tailed Hawk

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Is the Red-tailed Hawk right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red-tailed Buzzard; Redtail; Chicken Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis

The basics:
The widespread, if extremely variable, Red-tailed Hawk is probably the best-known American hawk, because it is so easily viewed over such a wide range of territory in a variety of habitats. A famous pair regularly nests on a skyscraper in central Manhattan, yet other pairs may be found in remote wilderness in Alaska or northern Canada.

As a common, tough, and highly successful species, the Red-tailed Hawk is one of two species generally allowed to apprentice falconers in the United States. However, never assume that any hawk will be “easy.” Because of the licensing and expertise required to be a responsible owner of a bird of prey, the following information is offered only as a hint of what you will need to learn to work with Red-tailed Hawks. There is no substitute for hands-on training, which we strongly recommend that you pursue before trying to acquire any bird of prey.

With up to 16 subspecies and multiple color morphs, the Red-tailed Hawk can be one of the most visually interesting birds to observe in the wild. Its behavior is equally varied, as it may be seen hunting from a perch or stooping from 1,000 feet. Whether you live in city, suburb, or far out in the country, if you're in North America and you're willing to get out and look around, you're likely to find some Red-tailed Hawks to observe.

Despite their varied plumage, this large hawk is not usually too tough to identify. Adult Red-Tailed Hawks possess the red tail in question, but perched birds of any age or plumage usually show a pale mottled V on the back and a splotchy “belly band” in front. Birds flying overhead are identified by a distinct dark bar on the leading edge of the wing – often called the “patagial” mark. Females are larger, sometimes substantially so.

Male: 1,028 grams (36 oz.)
Female: 1,224 grams (43 oz.)

Average size:
49 centimeters (19 in.)

25 - 30 years

Behavior / temperament:
An under-stimulated, overfed Red-tailed Hawk may indeed be an indolent bird, but in the past, well-trained birds were highly regarded by many falconers for their skill in capturing rabbits, hare, quail, or other prey. Well-known falconer Frank L. Beebe noted a Red-tail isn't as easily lost as many popular falconry birds, because of the strong attachment they can form both to their trainer and territory. That said, the explosive entrance of Harris's Hawk onto the falconry scene means that many people today have turned their attention away from the Red-tail. Don't underestimate the Red-tail's intelligence. A bird that cannot be flown for some reason -- perhaps because it's a rescue bird in a licensed facility – will need an enriched environment to engage its mind.

A good Red-Tailed Hawk pen, aviary, or mews will provide shade from direct sunlight in the summer and protection from extremes of winter weather. A roof that completely covers the structure is stronger and offers more protection from high winds. However, keeping the Red-Tailed Hawk entirely indoors is probably a bad idea, as they are watchful birds that seem to benefit from having an open mesh wall or walls that allow them to keep an eye on the outdoor scene. Like most birds of prey, they will enjoy some clean, shallow water for bathing.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a carnivore that needs to consume some whole prey in order to allow its digestive system to work properly. Successful breeders and falconers warn against the practice of only feeding one food, such as day old chicks or jack rabbits. A varied diet that includes chicks, rabbits, rodents, quail, pigeon, and more is much healthier. They should be supplied with drinking water. In the wild, the Red-tail sometimes misses its prey. To keep this species from becoming overweight and indolent, and to mimic natural food consumption patterns, many experts advise a day of fasting each week – another reason to get hands-on information about how to properly weigh your bird and adjust the diet for its best health.

Written by Elaine Radford


Apprentice Falconers, great beginner bird, remarkable raptors, wholly unique relationship


large time commitment, risks, raw meat, big responsibility, constant fitness plan


proper documents, North America, common birds, rehab facility, falconry regulations

Helpful Red-tailed Hawk Review

Red-tailed Hawk

From jarrodr Apr 18 2014 12:54PM


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