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Red-Tailed Hawk by Jason Haupt


One of the most prolific birds of prey seen in Illinois is the Red -tailed Hawk. They are frequently seen along roadsides perched in trees, on light poles, and fence poles. When you see a hawk, you are most likely seeing a Red -tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks are large hawks with rounded wings and short tails. There are several "morphs" of the Red-tailed Hawk, but they are most commonly brown above and pale beneath. The belly and chest often have some brown streaking. When in flight, a dark stripe can be seen on the leading edge of the wing that extends from the shoulder to the wrist of the bird. The tail is a brown-red on the top and white below.

Red -tailed Hawks can be found in just about every open habitat that is found in North America. They can be found in any habitat that provides large open spaces and has high perches from which to survey the area and find prey. Except for those that live in Alaska or in northern Canada, Red-tailed Hawks do not migrate. During the winter, northern hawks live alongside those who are year-round residents.

Red -tailed Hawks eat a variety of prey, though small mammals make up the majority of their diets. They concentrate on small animals and eat rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents. Red -tailed Hawks will also eat birds and reptiles depending on what is available. The Red -tailed Hawk has a relatively shallow dive when it is capturing its prey. It is significantly less step when compared to a falcon when it is stooping on its prey.

Red -tailed Hawks form pair bonds that last as long as both individuals are alive. Nests are located in the crown of tall trees, along cliff edges, or on artificial structures like billboards. Both members of the pair build or refurbish the nest in preparation for the year's only brood. Red-tailed Hawks will defend their territory and nests fiercely against other hawks, eagles, and Great Horned Owls. As adults, there are few natural predators for the Red-tailed Hawk, but the young are potential prey for a number of species, including the Great Horned Owl.

Fun Red-tailed Hawk Facts:

  1. The Red-tailed Hawk has what many consider the quintessential "hawk" cry. It is so much so, that Hollywood uses it for the sound of almost any bird of prey. The coarse scream has been used in many movies and has even been used for Bald Eagles. This has confused many people who do not recognize the call of a Bald Eagle.
  2. The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest birds found in North America. Though it is a large bird (females can be as tall as two feet), they are surprisingly light. A large female will average about three pounds. A similarly-sized land-based animal would weigh about 10 times that.
  3. Red-tailed Hawks have been seen hunting in pairs. Each individual guards one side of a tree to catch a squirrel.
  4. Red-tailed Hawks tend to hunt ground-based animals. They are not typically found near bird feeders waiting for an "easy" meal.


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