Here at Wildwood Park and Zoo, we have two red-tailed hawks. Jacks is a female who arrived in 2003 from a rehabilitation center in Illinois. She had an eye injury and had to have her left eye removed. Jill is a female which we received in 2010 from a rehabilitator in Wisconsin. She has a partial wing amputation and is also non-releasable.
Red-tailed hawks are large hawks with very broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail. Large females seen from a distance might fool you into thinking you’re seeing a bald eagle. Most red-tailed hawks are rich brown above and pale below, with a streaked belly and, on the wing underside, a dark bar between shoulder and wrist. The tail is usually pale below and cinnamon-red above, though in young birds it’s brown and banded. “Dark-morph” birds are all chocolate-brown with a warm red tail. “Rufous-morph” birds are reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly. The red-tailed hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a red-tailed hawk.
The red-tailed hawk is one of the most widely distributed hawks in the Americas. It breeds from central Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories east to southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and south to Florida, the West Indies, and Central America. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range.
Red-tailed hawks occupy just about every type of open habitat on the continent. This includes desert, scrublands, grasslands, roadsides, fields and pastures, parks, broken woodland, and (in Mexico) tropical rainforest.
Clutch Size: 1–5 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 brood
Incubation Period: 42-46 days
Both partners build the nest, or simply refurbish one of the nests they’ve used in previous years. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across. The inner cup is lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation. Construction takes 4-7 days. Red-tailed hawks typically put their nests in the crowns of tall trees where they have a commanding view of the landscape. They may also nest on a cliff ledge or on artificial structures such as window ledges and billboard platforms.
In the wild: 20 years
In human care: 20-30 years
Mammals make up the bulk of most hawk meals. Frequent victims include voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. The hawks also eat birds, including pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds; as well as snakes and carrion. Individual prey items can weigh anywhere from less than an ounce to more than 5 pounds.