RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

A pair of red-tailed hawks has its nest west of Hightop Drive in the woods just after you  come down the hill beyond the airstrip.  The female was on the nest March 16  and became quite agitated when I climbed up the hill behind the nest.  Typically she would lay two eggs in mid to late March; her behavior suggests that she has at least one in the nest now.

The female does most of the incubation of the eggs with the male sitting on the nest for 3-4 hours per day until the last week when his presence on the nest declines.  The incubation period is estimated to be 4-5 weeks.

The hatchlings are altricial (immature and helpless) and unable to raise their heads initially.  They weigh about 58 grams.  By the second day they begin to utter peeping calls and by day 10 make high whistling notes in response to the adults being overhead..  By 30 days of age they begin stretching their wings and exercising, and leave the nest by day 46.  The female broods the young; the male brings the food.

The Red-tailed Hawk is found from central Alaska south to Venezuela and east to the Virgin Islands, thus is found in all states but Hawaii.  The species varies considerably, with up to 16 subspecies, but all adults have a uniformly reddish tail with a narrow dark band across the end of the tail.  We usually have two or more pairs at Bundoran and get to observe their magnificent flight year round as well as the spectacular aerial maneuvers during courtship.  Because of the density in our area, the territories are defended year round.  Because the Red-tail inhabits open areas interspersed with patches of trees, it enjoys the habitat established in our country and their population expanded during the 20th century.

The Red-tail often hunts from a perch enabling us to easily see it.  Its diet includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods and fresh carrion.  Because of the latter it may perch by roadsides looking for road-kill.  It is probably important in keeping the population of small rodents in check.   I have seen a Red-tail catch a full grown squirrel, however it could not fly away with it.  One did fly away with my pet bantam chicken many years ago.

Red-tails are magnificent soaring birds: they spend about 75% of their flight soaring and 25% flapping.  Their flapping is generally slow, ponderous compared to crows.  Typical of hawks females are larger than males; the male is 45-56 cm and female 50-65 cm long.

If the nest is still visible after the trees leaf out we can hope to see the young as they become active in mid to late May.


A link to the red-tailed hawk on allaboutbirds (Cornell) follows.  Click on “Sound” to hear the hawk.


Submitted by Dorothy Tompkins, 3-16-12

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