Red-tailed Hawk,
Buteo jamaicensis

Facts and Information

Red Tailed Hawk, San Juan Island, Washington One of my favorite San Juan Island birds, the Red Tailed Hawk is sometimes called a "chickenhawk," regardless of the fact that it rarely preys on chicken. It is a raptor, a bird of prey. One of the largest hawks in North America, the female Red Tailed Hawk (or red-tailed hawk) grows up to 26" long, with a wingspan that can reach 57". Females tend to be larger than the male, which is usually about 22" long.

These birds have a light-colored belly with dark brown, vertical streaks that form a band, and a darker back. Their name comes from the characteristically red tail, darker above and brick-red, lighter underneath, and almost pink. They have a short, dark, hooked bill common to all raptors.

Common across a wide range of the world, from central Alaska, east to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and south to Florida and Central America, this hawk prefers mixed forest and field, with high bluffs or trees that may be used as perch sites. As long as it can find perch sites, they can live in widely varied landscapes, including cities and alongside highways where utility poles provide the perfect habitat for perch-hunting. The non-fiction book, "Red Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park," by Marie Winn, made Pale Male, a Red Tailed Hawk in New York, the most famous urban Hawk.

Red Tailed Hawk, San Juan Island, Washington In flight, this hawk is slow and deliberate, with long wing beats. It will hover over the ground, beating its wings to remain stationary, then dive downward at speeds that can exceed 120 mph. Typical flying speed is from 20 to 40 mph.

They are carnivorous, opportunistic feeders, consuming mainly small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and hunt from elevated perches, swooping down to seize prey either in mid-air or low to the ground.

They are monogamous, taking a new mate only when its original mate dies. Pairs construct stick and twig nests in large trees or cliff ledges at least 15 feet off the ground, though some birds may nest on man-made structures. Nests are generally 28 to 38 inches across and can be up to 3 feet tall, and are lined with bark, pine needles, plant stalks, or other plant matter.

Jump over to any of the other San Juan Island bird pages: American Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Common Raven, Coopers Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Double Crested Cormorant, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Sea Hawk, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Great Horned Owl, Wild Turkey, Trumpeter Swan.

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