Red Tailed Hawk

ORDER: Accipitriformes

FAMILY: Accipitridae

GENUS: Buteo

SPECIES: jamaicensis

Red-Tailed Hawks' plumage is usually rich brown on the upper part of the body, streaks of light and dark on the belly, and dark bars on the undersides of the wings. They are well known for their rusty reddish-brown tail, yet this trademark tail is not always exhibited. This species' color ranges as much as its distribution. They exhibit colors from light tans, auburns, rusty reds even to deep chocolate browns. One other characteristic to look for is the yellow skin at the base of the beak (cere), and the yellow legs and feet. Females and males are similar in appearance, but females can be 25% larger than males, which happens to be common in birds of prey. Juveniles look very similar to adults but the coloration is more muddled, and their eyes are more yellow, which darken to brown as they mature. Height = 1.5-2 feet; Weight = 1.5-3 lbs.

Known as North Americas' most common hawk, they are found all over the continent. They are successful in a wide range of habitats as well as varying elevations; habitats include scrub deserts, plains, grasslands, agricultural fields, coniferous and deciduous woodlands, tropical rainforests, and urban parks. In general they choose open areas with high elevated perches to watch for prey.

Carnivorous. Small mammals such as rodents and rabbits as well as reptiles and other birds.

Lay clutches of 1-2 eggs that hatch within 28-35 days. Sexual maturity is reached at 3 years, at which point pair bonding begins. After bonding the birds will stay together for years until one of the pair dies. This team is very active when it comes to protecting their territory and nest site. The females tend to be more aggressive when defending the nest while the males aggressively defend the territory. Average lifespan is 21 years in the wild, up to 29 years has been recorded in captivity.

Keen eyesight allows this raptor to perch high above the ground and find prey. The eyesight of a RTH is about 8 times as powerful as a human's. Strong feet with very sharp talons are used to puncture prey when hunting. The broad, rounded wings help conserve energy by aiding in soaring, which uses much less energy than flapping. Covering large territories is beneficial to this raptors' survival, and flight speeds are estimated to be around 35-40 mph. Yet it is possible for them to reach 120mph in aerial dives.

Adults have few predators. Nonetheless, Great Horned Owls and corvids are great threats to eggs and nestlings.

The Red-tailed Hawk is part of our education animal collection and is not on exhibit.

Listed as least concern by CITIES and IUCN.


  1. National Geographic:
  2. Animal Diversity Web:
  3. Audubon:
  4. TheCornellLabofOrnithology: