Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis
Red-tailed Hawk specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (19-25 inches) hawk, the Red-tailed Hawk is most easily identified by its dark brown back, pale underparts, and rusty-red tail visible from above or below. In some parts of this species’ range, exceptionally light or dark subspecies occur, having more or less pigment in the back, breast, and tail than the nominative subspecies. Male and female Red-tailed Hawks are similarly-plumaged in all seasons; however, like most species of raptors, females are larger than males. The Red-tailed Hawk breeds from Alaska and northern Canada south through the United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America. In winter, northerly-breeding populations migrate south to the southern half of the U.S. Southerly-breeding populations migrate short distances, if at all. Red-tailed Hawks are birds of semi-open country. This species inhabits open woodland, shrubby fields, and even urban areas where food is plentiful. Red-tailed Hawks primarily eat small mammals, including lemmings, mice, and voles, but may eat small birds and reptiles when the opportunity presents itself. Red-tailed Hawks are most easily seen soaring over open habitat while scanning the ground for prey, dropping down to capture it with their talons. With the aid of binoculars, it may also be possible to see individual Red-tailed Hawks perching in trees or tall posts near their hunting grounds. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common permanent resident in most arboreal habitats outside urban areas. Nests from mid-March to late June. Females are larger than males.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is a juvenile; notice the horizontal bars on the back of its tail (visible only in the exhibit).  The bird on the right is a male.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Buteo jamaicensis

Buteo jamaicensis

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17116 Buteo jamaicensis (Red-tailed Hawk)