Red-Tailed Hawk: Great Characteristics and Identification

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Spotting birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk can be rather exhilarating, yet somewhat challenging. Just like yourself, we’ve often been found gazing skyward at a soaring bird, curiosity piqued by the question: ‘Is that the renowned ‘retail’? Delving into research to tackle this common bird-watching conundrum led us to some fascinating insights we’re keen to share.

To that end, this blog post aims to identify features and illuminate intriguing characteristics of this impressive raptor. So, let’s unfurl our metaphoric wings and embark on an avian adventure!

Identification of the Red-Tailed Hawk

 Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-Tailed Hawk is easily identified by its physical characteristics, such as its wings and tail shape and distinctive colour variations.

Physical characteristics

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a big bird. It gets its name from its red tail feathers. But not all of them have red tails. Some have white, brown, and grey tails. These hawks are bulky, and they have broad wings.

They can be about 19 to 25 inches long from head to tail tip. Their wings can spread out up to 58 inches wide! That’s almost as tall as an average person!

Colour Variations

This distinguished bird is known for its distinctive red tail feathers, which give it its name. However, did you know there is also a dark form of the Red-tailed Hawk? Instead of a red tail, this variation has a marbled white, brown, and grey tail. Both colour variations are beautiful and unique in their own way.

The red-tailed hawk’s different colourations can be attributed to genetics and environmental adaptations. These variations allow it to blend in with its surroundings and improve its chances of hunting success.

Whether you spot a hawk with a striking red tail or one with an intricately patterned tail, you’re witnessing nature’s diverse palette at work. So next time you’re out bird-watching or exploring the great outdoors, watch for these majestic birds in their traditional red-tailed form and their captivating dark morph variation.

Characteristics of the Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a versatile predator with distinct physical characteristics that can adapt to various habitats. It is the largest hawk in North America, with females typically weighing around 2.5 pounds and measuring around 22 inches in length.

Habitat and Behaviour

This fascinating bird can be found in a variety of habitats across North America. It prefers open country areas, such as fields and grasslands, but it can also be spotted near woodlots near farms and cities.

This hawk is not commonly found in deep woods. The Red-tailed Hawk is an excellent hunter, using its sharp eyesight and powerful wings to soar effortlessly through the sky in search of prey.

red-tailed hawk

It feeds on small mammals, birds, and even reptiles. We find it truly amazing how this hawk has adapted to its environment and plays an important role as a predator in the ecosystem.


The Red-Tailed Hawk’s diet includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. A skilled hunter uses its sharp talons to catch its prey. Whether it’s squirrels, rabbits, or snakes, the Red-Tailed Hawk can spot them from high above and swoop down quickly to capture its meal.

Observing these hunting behaviours in action can be a thrilling experience for nature lovers. So, if you’re exploring North America’s open fields and woodlots, keep an eye out for this majestic bird of prey on the hunt!

Reproduction and Longevity

Red-tailed Hawks reproduce by building large nests made of sticks and twigs. The female lays 1 to 4 eggs, which hatch after about a month of incubation. The young hawks stay in the nest for around 6 weeks before they are ready to fly. Red-tailed Hawks can mate for life and may use the same nest year after year.

When it comes to longevity, Red-tailed Hawks have an average lifespan of around 12 years in the wild. However, some individuals have been known to live up to 25 years or more. Their long lifespan allows them to raise multiple broods and contribute to their population’s success over time.

Human Interactions

People who enjoy observing wildlife and exploring nature will often encounter the majestic Red-tailed Hawks during their travels. These hawks are not usually a threat to humans and are known to adapt well to urban environments, sometimes nesting in trees near homes or even on skyscrapers! However, it’s important for us to treat these birds with respect by keeping our distance and not disturbing them when they’re nesting or hunting.

By appreciating these beautiful creatures from afar, we can help ensure their continued presence in our natural world for future generations to enjoy.

The Red-Tailed Hawk: Soaring Through Myth and Legend

red-tailed hawk

With its piercing gaze and powerful wings, this bird has captivated the human imagination for millennia. Across continents and cultures, it has transcended its role as a predator to become a symbol of power, wisdom, and the divine. Let’s explore the fascinating journey of the red-tailed hawk through the tapestry of human mythology and folklore.

In the Americas: A Symbol of Power and Transformation

For many indigenous cultures of North America, the red-tailed hawk embodied strength, courage, and leadership. Among the Lakota people, it was known as “Can-ka Wakinyan,” the “Thunder Being,” associated with the sky and the power of storms. Warriors often wore hawk feathers as symbols of bravery and prowess in battle.

Similarly, the Aztecs associated this bird with the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, representing power and sacrifice. The Maya revered it as a messenger between the earthly and spiritual realms, facilitating communication with the ancestors.

Across the Ocean: Messengers and Guardians

The red-tailed hawk’s keen vision and soaring flight weren’t lost on cultures across the Atlantic. In ancient Egypt, it was associated with Horus, the falcon-headed sky god, representing kingship, protection, and the heavens. Pharaohs were often depicted wearing crowns adorned with hawk imagery.

In some European traditions, the red-tailed hawk was seen as a messenger of the gods, carrying prayers and offerings to the heavens. In Norse mythology, Odin, the Allfather, was said to have two ravens that served as his scouts and some scholars believe these ravens might have been inspired by the red-tailed hawk.

Beyond Symbolism: Myths and Legends

The red-tailed hawk is also prominently featured in creation myths and folklore. Some Native American tales depict the hawk as a trickster figure, using its cunning to overcome challenges. One Cherokee story tells of a hawk stealing fire from the underworld, bringing warmth and light to humanity.

In some European legends, the hawk is associated with shapeshifting and prophecy. The Welsh tale of Math fab Mathonwy recounts a powerful sorcerer who transforms into a red-tailed hawk to escape his enemies.

The Persistence of the Symbol

Even today, the red-tailed hawk continues to hold cultural significance. It is a revered bird of prey in the United States, featured on some state flags and mascots. Its image often represents power, freedom, and sharp intellect. Conservation efforts frequently use the red-tailed hawk as a symbol of the importance of protecting wildlife and preserving natural habitats.

A Legacy of Respect

The red-tailed hawk’s enduring presence in mythology and folklore highlights humans’ deep connection with the natural world. These magnificent birds continue to inspire awe and respect, reminding us of the animal kingdom’s power, grace, and interconnectedness. As we strive to understand and protect red-tailed hawks, we ensure their survival and preserve a rich tapestry of cultural heritage woven through centuries of human imagination.

Threats and Conservation: A Soaring Struggle

The good news is that red-tailed hawks are not currently endangered or threatened. Their adaptable nature and wide range have helped them maintain a healthy population. However, they still face challenges that require ongoing conservation efforts.

Threats to Red-Tailed Hawks

  • Habitat Loss: Urbanization and development continue to encroach on natural habitats, reducing the availability of nesting sites and hunting grounds for red-tailed hawks. Fragmentation of forests also disrupts their preferred hunting territories.
  • Human Activity: Collisions with power lines and wind turbines significantly threaten red-tailed hawks. Additionally, activities like pesticide use can indirectly harm them by poisoning their prey or affecting their reproductive health.
  • Rodenticide Poisoning: In urban areas, red-tailed hawks that prey on rodents can be exposed to secondary poisoning by ingesting rodents that have been poisoned by rodenticides.

Conservation Efforts

Fortunately, several initiatives are underway to protect red-tailed hawks:

  • Habitat Protection: Conservation organizations work to preserve natural areas and corridors that provide crucial habitats for red-tailed hawks. This includes advocating for responsible land management practices and creating wildlife refuges.
  • Power Line Safety: Efforts are being made to retrofit power lines with bird-friendly designs that minimize the risk of electrocution for red-tailed hawks and other raptors.
  • Education and Public Awareness: Raising public awareness about the importance of red-tailed hawks and the threats they face is crucial. Educating people about responsible wildlife viewing practices and the dangers of rodenticides can also contribute to their conservation.

The Road Ahead

While red-tailed hawks are not facing imminent extinction, ongoing conservation efforts are vital to ensure their continued success. By protecting their habitats, minimizing human-caused threats, and fostering public appreciation for these majestic birds, we can help red-tailed hawks continue to soar for generations to come.

Red-Tailed Hawks: A Feathered Arsenal of Fascinating Facts

Soaring majestically on broad wings, the red-tailed hawk is a common sight across North America. But beneath its seemingly familiar exterior lies a fascinating creature with a surprising array of adaptations and behaviours. Delve deeper with us as we explore some of the most interesting facts about these remarkable birds of prey.

A Master of the Skies: Built for Aerobatics

  • Magnificent Wingspan: Red-tailed hawks boast one of the largest wingspans among North American birds of prey, reaching up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) when outstretched. These broad wings allow them to soar effortlessly for long distances, conserving energy while searching for prey.
  • Exceptional Vision: Their eyesight is truly remarkable. Red-tailed hawks have an approximately eight times sharper visual acuity than humans, allowing them to spot potential prey from incredible heights. They can even detect small movements like a vole scurrying through grass from hundreds of feet above.
  • Silent Soaring: Unlike some birds of prey that beat their wings constantly, red-tailed hawks utilize a technique called kettling. They exploit rising thermals and warm air columns to gain altitude without flapping their wings. This silent gliding allows them to surprise unsuspecting prey and conserve energy for hunting dives.
  • Aerobatic Maneuvers: When hunting, red-tailed hawks can perform impressive aerial manoeuvres. They can dive at speeds exceeding 120 mph (190 km/h), making them formidable predators.

Beyond the Physical: A Life of Strategy and Adaptability

  • Masters of Disguise: Red-tailed hawks exhibit a remarkable phenomenon called polymorphism, meaning they come in various colour variations. These variations, known as morphs, can range from a light, rufous colour to a dark chocolate brown. This diversity in plumage might help them blend in with different environments or offer camouflage advantages depending on their hunting grounds.
  • Variable Communication: While red-tailed hawks are not known for their elaborate songs, they do possess a versatile vocal repertoire. Their piercing, high-pitched scream is a common sound used to defend their territory or communicate with their mate. They also emit a series of cackles and whistles for different purposes.
  • Cooperative Hunting (Sometimes): Red-tailed hawks primarily hunt alone, relying on their keen eyesight and agility. However, in rare instances, they might engage in cooperative hunting strategies. For example, a pair of hawks might work together to flush out prey hidden in tall grass.
  • Clever Use of Tools: While not as common as in some bird species, red-tailed hawks have been observed using tools to aid their hunting. They might use rocks to break open tough shells or cleverly position sticks to trap prey.

Family Life: A Tale of Partnership and Parental Care

  • Lifelong Mates: Red-tailed hawks form strong pair bonds that can last for life. Mated pairs work together to defend their territory, build their nest, and raise their young. This cooperative effort significantly increases their reproductive success.
  • The Art of Nest Building: Red-tailed hawks are not picky about their nesting sites. They can build their nests on cliffs, tall trees, or even human-made structures like abandoned buildings. Their nests are impressive structures constructed from sticks and lined with softer materials like leaves and grasses. These nests can be reused and expanded upon year after year.
  • Dedicated Parents: Both parents are responsible for incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. They take turns hunting for prey and bringing food back to the nest, ensuring the chicks have sufficient nourishment to develop properly.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Red-tailed hawks typically lay clutches of 2-3 eggs. However, only the strongest chick has the highest chance of survival. Sibling rivalry can be fierce, with the larger chick sometimes outcompeting its siblings for food brought by the parents.

Beyond the Nest: A Look at Threats and Conservation Efforts

  • Adaptable Hunters, Vulnerable Environment: Red-tailed hawks are opportunistic predators, feeding on a variety of small mammals, reptiles, birds, and even insects. This adaptability allows them to thrive in diverse habitats. However, their main threat comes from habitat loss due to human development and activities.
  • Silent Threat: Rodenticide Poisoning: In urban areas, red-tailed hawks that prey on rodents can be exposed to secondary poisoning by ingesting rodents that have been poisoned by rodenticides. This can lead to a slow and painful death, posing a significant threat to their populations.
  • Conservation in Action: Fortunately, several initiatives are underway to protect red-tailed hawks. Conservation organizations work to preserve natural habitats and create wildlife corridors. Educational programs raise public awareness about the importance of responsible wildlife viewing practices and the dangers of rodenticides. Efforts are also being made to retrofit power lines with bird-friendly designs that minimize the risk of electrocution.

Red-Tailed Hawks in Culture and Folklore: Soaring Through Myth and Legend

With its piercing gaze and powerful wings, the red-tailed hawk has transcended its role as a predator to become a symbol of power, wisdom, and the divine across continents and cultures. For many indigenous cultures of North America, it embodied strength, courage, and leadership. In ancient Egypt, it was associated with the sky god, Horus, who represented kingship, protection, and the heavens. Even today, the red-tailed hawk continues to hold cultural significance, and it is featured on some state flags and mascots in the United States.

A Majestic Creature Worth Protecting

The red-tailed hawk is a captivating bird of prey, captivating our attention with its aerial prowess, diverse behaviours, and remarkable adaptations. From their exceptional eyesight and silent soaring to their cooperative hunting tactics and dedicated parental care, red-tailed hawks offer a glimpse into the wonders of the natural world.

Understanding these fascinating creatures and their challenges ensures their continued survival. By supporting conservation efforts and appreciating their role in the ecosystem, we can help red-tailed hawks soar majestically through the skies for generations to come.


The Red-Tailed Hawk is a fascinating bird with distinct characteristics. Its red tail feathers make it easily identifiable, although some have a different coloured tail.

These hawks are well adapted for soaring and can be found in open country habitats. With their impressive hunting skills and stable conservation status, they continue to be a remarkable species observed throughout North America.


1. What is a Red-Tailed Hawk, and how can I identify it?

This bird is a bird species known as Buteo. For easy identification, you can use the Audubon Field Guide or other bird-watching guides to learn about its unique hawk characteristics.

2. How big does a Red-Tailed Hawk measure?

The size of this bird will vary, but an up-to-date guide can give you exact measurements of its anatomy.

3. What are some interesting facts about the behaviour and habitat of the red-tailed hawk?

These predators’ behaviour is often reflected in raptor identification guides. They live across many areas, each with varied habitats, which form part of important its conservation efforts.

4. Why do we need to conserve the red-tailed hawk and its habitat?

Redtailed-hawk conservation is vital because it plays an important part in our environment by controlling rodent populations. Protecting their habitat helps keep this balance.

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