Birds of Prey: The Red Tail Hawk
As one of the most common hawks in North America, most of us have probably at one time or another seen one of these majestic birds perched high atop a tree. We are fortunate here in western Massachusetts to have numerous Red Tail Hawks residing in our area and they are a joy to watch whether they are soaring on a current high above us or perched on a tree limb scanning the horizon for their next meal. Their distinctive call sometimes alerts us to their presence and it has been my mission over the last few years to try to photograph this beautiful creature.
A few facts about the Red Tail Hawk
The Red Tail Hawk is one of the larger birds that you will see here in North America. They are quite adaptable and as such are common in almost any habitat including forests, deserts, fields and urban areas.
Adult females are actually up to 25% larger than the males and can grow to over two feet in length. Despite their size, even the largest of females will only weigh in at three to four pounds or so. Their impressive wingspan can reach up to five feet across and they have large, sharp talons that can be used for hunting or defending their territories.
The nest of the Red Tail Hawk is usually quite large and can measure up to three feet in diameter. While they have been known to build their nests on cliffs, buildings and billboards they are most commonly found at the top of very tall trees and are usually made of sticks, bark and other vegetation. From this vantage point they can scan the landscape looking for their next meal that can include pretty much any small mammal such as mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels and even other birds or snakes.
The Red Tail Hawk has incredible eyesight that is over eight times as powerful as a human being, and often times when you see them soaring high above you they are actually hunting and looking for small rodents.
This series of photos was taken while the hawk was feeding on top of a light pole. I left out the more graphic photos.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Red Tail Hawks are generally monogamous and will stay together for many years. They will only take a new mate when their original mate dies. Females will usually lay from one to three eggs in the spring with the female doing most of the incubating of the eggs. After approximately thirty days the eggs will hatch. Over the next few weeks the male will continue to bring food to the female and the newborns, which are known as eyasses. Six weeks or so into their life the eyasses will begin to fly leaving the nest for short periods. The entire fledgling period can take up to ten weeks and it is during this time that the young hawks will learn to hunt.
The Red Tail Hawk is very recognizable. Adults are usually dark brown on their back with a white underbelly that has a dark band across their chest from wing tip to wing tip. Their exact plumage will vary slightly depending on the region in North America but for the most part their markings are fairly consistent. And of course the red tail that gave this bird its name is usually a deep, rustic red in color.
Despite the fact that the Red Tail Hawk is very common across North America they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act here in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
With few natural predators and their high ability to adapt it is estimated that there are approximately one million Red Tail Hawks in the United States alone.
Range of the Red Tail Hawk
For many years I tried to photograph the Red Tail Hawks that reside in our area. But as is sometimes the case, mother nature doesn't always work to our schedule and the opportunities just never presented themselves. When I would spot them I either didn't have my camera with me or by time I got my camera they had moved on. And then after years of trying, a remarkable string of good luck bestowed me and I had numerous great opportunities all within a few months of each other and I was able to get all the photos included in this article. They are just beautiful creatures and I feel very fortunate to have been able to finally capture some photos of them.
Other Birds of Prey:
- Birds of Prey - The Martial Eagle
A look at Africa's largest and most powerful eagle. The Martial Eagle is one of the largest Eagles in the world and this beautiful Bird of Prey is found only in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Birds of Prey - The Steller's Sea Eagle
The Steller's Sea Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful Birds of Prey found throughout the world. Take a look at this impressive eagle that is found only in the northeastern reaches of Asia.
- Birds of Prey - The Bald Eagle
The American Bald Eagle is the most majestic and revered of all Birds of Prey across North America. Honored and respected by Native Americans for centuries, this beautiful bird is perhaps the most famous of all Birds of Prey.
- Birds of Prey - The Harpy Eagle
An introduction to the Harpy Eagle, one of the largest and most powerful birds in the world. Everything you need to know about this beautiful bird of prey that makes its home in the rain-forests of Central and South America.
- Birds of Prey - The Golden Eagle
Learn everything you need to know about the majestic Golden Eagle. Larger than the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle is much more widespread and is the largest Bird of Prey in North America.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio