Red-tailed Hawk

So, I’ve been spotting quite a few red-tailed hawks over the past few months. My one big ‘photography dilemma’ though, is that most of them have been soaring over head, and I rarely spot them sitting on a post or tree branch. The one or two pictures I have of them sitting (or perching) is from a decent distance. They seem to be happy spending most of the day soaring and hunting for food.

We actually had one land in the backyard the other day–I think it was just trying to find a spot to perch so it could keep an eye out for squirrels, but once it noticed how close it was to humans, it took off again rather quickly.

Red-tail hawk soaring overhead

These are actually the second largest hawk (from the genus Buteo) in North America (only the Ferruginous hawk is larger), to where you may think you’re seeing an eagle off in the distance (but it could actually be a female red-tailed hawk).

In terms of coloring, these hawks have a rich brown coloring on their backs, and a pale belly with streaks. They also have a ‘dark bar’ between their shoulders and wrists. The tail only looks ‘red’ from above (or when perched), and is paler in color from below.

Red-tail hawks perched with one soaring in the background

There are different ‘morphs’, where the ‘darker morphs’ are basically all dark brown with a red tail; the ‘rufous-morphs’ have a mottled red-brown chest with a dark brown belly.

Young red-tail hawks have a banded brown tail compared to the ‘red-tail’ of the adults.

Red-tailed hawk range map. Map (c) birds of the world

The red-tailed hawk can be found throughout North America.

It breeds in Alaska, Canada, North Dakota, Maine, and the northern parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire; in addition to parts of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

It is a year-round resident in majority of the lower forty-eight states, in addition to being found year-round in parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.

These are the birds of the open areas—they can be found in deserts, scrublands, grasslands, fields, pastures, city parks, woods, and within Mexico and Central America—the tropical rainforests.

These are the birds that you will probably spot sitting on a fencepost along the highway or soaring through the sky, searching for their next meal (they like various mammals). I’ve spotted these guys mainly soaring around Boomer Lake, and occasionally over the backyard on their way to the woods a block or so over.

Red-tailed hawk flying over Boomer Lake

These birds eat meat—namely mammals, such as voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and squirrels. They may also go after other birds, such as pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds. If they spot a snake, they may for that as well.

Some other odd little tid-bits about red-tail hawks:

The oldest known red-tailed hawk was over 30 years old when it was found in Michigan in 2011—according the band around it’s leg, it had been banded in Michigan back in 1981.

The shrill cry of a hawk or eagle in a movie—is usually always the cry of a red-tailed hawk (no matter what the actually species is).

A photography goal is to try to get a closer picture of one perching somewhere (on a post, tree branch, possibly light post), and also get a picture or two of the different ‘morphs’ of red-tailed hawks.