All About the Red-Tailed Hawk

Few birds are as adaptable as the red-tailed hawk.

From farm country, ranches, prairie grasslands and light woods to roadsides, parks and even urban yards and gardens, these amazing raptors thrive across North America. It’s especially common to see red-tails perched on roadside lightpoles and signposts as the hawks watch for prey in the grassy right-of-way.

Look for a large raptor (more than 2 feet tall), brown with a creamy, streaked belly. Its namesake tail is cinnamon- or brick-red above and pale orange underneath. Its impressive wingspan can be as much as 4 feet.

Appreciate the red-tail’s service to gardeners and others. These hawks hunt mice, voles, gophers and rats, and will also take rabbits, squirrels and, rarely, some songbirds.

Marvel at red-tailed hawks’ hunting techniques: Perch and peer for prey, and then launch and pounce; or soar and watch for rustlings below, and then dive and hit.

Listen for its haunting call as it flies—a descending keeeearrrr scream that could be described as hoarse, raspy or shrill. (Go to allaboutbirds.org to hear red-tailed hawk calls.)

Did you know that a red-tailed hawk’s vision is up to 10 times better than that of humans? We can see a mouse that’s 30 feet off; a red-tail can see it from a football field away.

Photos: Randy Hoepner / Don Jones