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Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis


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Red-tailed Hawk, adult
credit: Derek Ramsey/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Accipitridae, Hawks and Eagles view all from this family

Description ADULT Has brown head, back, and upper wings, and reddish tail. Most eastern birds have pale underparts faintly flushed buff and variably streaked dark brown, mainly on belly; in flight, from below, pale flight feathers have dark trailing edge and tips, and plumage is otherwise pale buff with diagnostic dark leading edge to inner wing. Western birds (seen mostly outside range of this book) occur as dark morphs (uniformly dark brown except for red tail) and light morphs (similar to eastern birds but washed rufous below). JUVENILES Similar to adult counterparts, but reddish elements of plumage are replaced by whitish; tail has fine, even barring. Compared to Rough-legged, note dark (not pale) leading edge to inner wing and indistinct dark carpal patch; Rough-legged has dark subterminal band or barring on otherwise white tail, and juvenile and adult female have striking dark belly.

Dimensions Length: 18-25" (46-64 cm); Wngspn: 4' (1.2 m)

Habitat Common in a range of habitats; range contracts south in winter.

Observation Tips Easy to observe.

Range Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Alaska, Texas, Eastern Canada, Southwest, Northwest, California, Florida, Plains, Western Canada, New England, Rocky Mountains

Voice Utters whistles and screams.

Discussion Our most widespread Buteo. Detailed discussion of extensive plumage variation is beyond this book's scope but adults of all subspecies and morphs seen in summer in east have diagnostic reddish tail. Pacific Northwest breeder Harlan's (ssp. harlani, with gray tail) winters in range of this book. All juvenile Red-taileds share characteristics with other juvenile Buteo species. Sexes are similar.