Red-tailed hawk

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Image:RedTailedHawk.jpg

Common Name: Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

Size: 17.7-25.6 inches (45-65 cm); Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 inches (114-133 cm) Habitat: North America; Northern Canada to Central America and the Caribbean. Northern populations migrate south for the winter.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a bird of open country. It is found along the edges of fields where it perches on telephones poles, fence posts, or trees.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 2,300,000 adult individuals. This species has undergone a large and statistically significant increase over the last 40 years in North America (177% increase over 40 years, equating to a 29% increase per decade). Wind farms present significant threats.

Diet: 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.

Prey are located by circling from above, and then, diving at a speed of 195 km/h (121 mph). The force of the strike generally kills the prey.

Nesting: While sexes are alike, females are noticeably larger than males. 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.

Courting Red-tailed Hawks put on a display in which they soar in wide circles at a great height. The male dives steeply, then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops he approaches the female from above, extends his legs, and touches her briefly. Sometimes, the pair grab onto one other, clasp talons, and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away. Mated pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies.

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. Both members 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 of the nest usually takes 4-7 days.

Cool Facts: There are at least 14 recognized subspecies of Buteo jamaicensis, which vary in range and in coloration:

  • B. j. jamaicensis, the nominate subspecies, occurs in the northern West Indies, including Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles but not the Bahamas or Cuba. El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico holds the highest known density of red-tailed hawks anywhere. The bird is referred to as "Guaraguao" in the island.
  • B. j. alascensis breeds (probably resident) from southeastern coastal Alaska to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
  • B. j. borealis (eastern red-tailed hawk) breeds from southeast Canada and Maine south through eastern Texas and east to northern Florida. It winters from southern Ontario east to southern Maine and south to the Gulf coast and Florida.
  • B. j. calurus (western red-tailed hawk) breeds from central interior Alaska, through western Canada south to Baja California. It winters from southwestern British Columbia southwest to Guatemala and northern Nicaragua. Paler individuals of northern Mexico may lack the dark wing marking.
  • B. j. costaricensis is resident from Nicaragua to Panama. This subspecies is dark brown above with cinnamon flanks, wing linings and sides, and some birds have rufous underparts. The chest is much less heavily streaked than in northern migrants (B. j. calurus) to Central America.
  • B. j. fuertesi (southwestern red-tailed hawk) breeds from northern Chihuahua to southern Texas. It winters in Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Louisiana. The belly is unstreaked or only lightly streaked, and the tail is pale.
  • B. j. fumosus occurs in Islas Marías, Mexico
  • B. j. hadropu occurs in the Mexican Highlands
  • B. j. harlani (Harlan's red-tailed hawk, sometimes classified as its own species, B. harlani, Harlan's hawk is markedly different from all other red-tails. In both color morphs, the plumage is blackish and white, lacking warm tones (save the tail). The tail may be reddish, dusky, whitish, or gray and can be longitudinally streaked, mottled, or barred. Shorter primaries result in wingtips that don't reach the tail in perched birds. It breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada and winters from Nebraska and Kansas to Texas and northern Louisiana. This population may well be a * B. j. kemsiesi is a dark subspecies resident from Chiapas to Nicaragua. The dark wing marking may not be distinct in paler birds.
  • B. j. kriderii (Krider's red-tailed hawk) is paler than other red-tails, especially on the head; the tail may be pinkish or white. In the breeding season, it occurs from southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and extreme western Ontario south to south-central Montana, Wyoming, western Nebraska, and western Minnesota. In winter, it occurs from South Dakota and southern Minnesota south to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
  • B. j. socorroensis occurs on Socorro Island, Mexico
  • B. j. solitudinus occurs in the Bahamas and Cuba
  • B. j. umbrinus occurs year-round in peninsular Florida north to Tampa Bay and the Kissimmee Prairie. It is similar in appearance to B. j. calurus.

This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume III: Hawks of the New World

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