Red-Tail Hawk

An adult red-tailed hawk flies into the sun on a bright blue sky day

A red-tail hawk is a large, soaring, broad-winged bird of prey.  It is the most common hawk native to North America, easily identifiable by the tawny pink underside of its brick-red fan-shaped tail.

The red-tail hawk is one of three kinds of hawks known colloquially as “chicken hawks” although none prey on standard size chickens. They prefer small ground mammals, but are considered “opportunistic generalists” that can survive on a diet of smaller birds, reptiles, fish, and crabs.

A red-tail hawk typically perches on a high spot to hunt below, whether it be from the top of a grove of trees over a field, or from a cliff top, or even from a highway overpass as they can  inhabit varied environments including urban. 

Red-tail hawk on perch
Red-tail hawk

When soaring or flapping its wings a red-tail hawk can travel 20 to 40 mph, but when diving for prey can exceed 120mph.  They are not without their own foes however—smaller birds they might individually hunt can cluster into mobs and interfere with the bigger bird’s behavior, sometimes separating the hawk from its nestlings or destroying nested eggs.  Worse—a red-tail hawk may be attacked by a mob of up to 25 crows which together can cause serious bodily harm (hence the term a “murder” of crows).

Red-tail hawks are found as far north as the arctic timberline to as far south as Panama and the West Indies. The red-tail hawk’s scientific name is Buteo jamaicensis.

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