Red-tails average one and 1/2 to three and 1/2 pounds,
are 18 inches to 2 feet in length, and have wing spans from 3 to 5 feet, with males about a third smaller than females, which have larger and broader heads, wider wings, more powerful thighs
and feet, and a heavier and blockier build all around. Males, on the
other hand, are more agile in flight, and faster.
Red-tails feed mostly on rodents, although they are very adaptable and will take such birds as pigeons, crows, gulls, game birds and waterfowl, when they can’t find rodents. In the Western deserts, they live as much on rattlesnakes and lizards, as they do on rodents. Their eyesight is so much better than ours that when we see them as small dots in the sky, they can still see a rat in the grass. They attack in a slow, controlled dive with legs and talons outstretched to grasp their prey, in contrast to the falcon’s high-speed stoop.
tails have thrived under the expansion of agriculture and the
interstate highway system across the country. Since 80% of their prey
consists of rats and mice, they are the farmer's most useful friends,
and the highway system provides perching poles for them
to view the
rodents in the grassy median between the driving lanes. The good news
about the highway system
is that we see so many red-tails while driving, while the bad news is
that too many red-tails, are struck by cars, as they dive at their
quarry. In addition, our penchant for tearing down forests may anger us
tree huggers, but it definitely has a fan in the red-tail who prefers
to hunt in open fields.
One of the sad ironies of our stewardship of
the earth is that we routinely kill the animals that are most helpful
Just as local bats eat their weight in mosquitoes every night, and just
snakes, black snakes and red-tail hawks
have diets that consist mostly of rats and mice, we reward them by
when we come across them. We recently took in a beautiful female
red-tail, who had been severely injured in a leg
hold trap. It is
unconscionable that this form of hunting, which targets a few species,
but indiscrimately kills many others, is legal in most states,
never mind the slow, painful death it inflicts.
Red-Tail mating season is from March until
May, and red-tails are noted for their spectacular
courtship flights, in which the male and female repeatedly dive, lock
spin a few
times before going to a tree to mate. Red-tails are monogomous,
and both male and female work on constructing a bulky, flat nest out of
sticks, usually 35 to 75 feet up in a branch fork of a large tree.
Nests may be used year after year, with new layers added, as wind
jostles and removes exposed sections of the nest. Occasionally,
red-tails will lose their nests to great horned owls, who do not
construct nests, but nest earlier in the year, often appropriating
The Red-Tails have such a beautiful cry, you
may have heard it during any movie featuring a bald eagle, which has a
not-so-beautiful cry. Just as movie-makers have us believing that
grizzlies and wolves are likely events during our forays into the wild,
they routinely substitute the red-tail’s cry for the eagle’s to create
magic wildlife scene. "Harlan's hawk" is a very dark Canadian
sub-species of the Red-Tail, which resembles a golden eagle's color.
There are about fourteen sub-species in all.
Gary and Steve
|Saw Whet Owl||Barn
|Broad Winged Hawk||Swainsons Hawk||Rough
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center
Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phones: 914-715-7620 or 914-772-5983
Office Phone: 518-946-2428
Email us: info@AdirondackWildlife.org