Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

A large bird with white breast and dark back and head flies out of a tree.

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Introduction

The red-tailed hawk is one of our most common raptors in southern Minnesota, but they live in a wide range extending from Alaska to South America.

Raptors have unusually good eyesight, although it is difficult to determine how good. It is generally thought, however, that hawks have visual acuity that is 2-3 times better than humans, although some argue eight times better is a better estimate. Regardless, they can see small prey from great distances, fly to them, and accurately strike.

Red-tails eat primarily small mammals, such as mice, but will also prey on squirrels, rabbits, snakes, and even a few of the larger birds. Occasionally they may feed on carrion.

They are ideally suited to a life as a predator with sharp, powerful talons used to kill prey; a hooked bill used to tear flesh; excellent eyesight with good depth perception, and strong wings for swift flight.

Red-tails usually hunt from a perch waiting patiently for prey to show itself. Sometimes, however, one can see these large hawks hovering on wing by flying slowly into a stiff wind. From these aerial perches, the hawk can survey areas in which more traditional perches are unavailable.

Fantastic Facts

  • A large female red-tailed hawk may have a 48" wide wingspan.
  • Red-tails have a wide range of color variations, including a very light color phase, called a "Krider's" red-tailed hawk. Others can be a very dark reddish brown, but all red-tailed adults have rusty red tails.
  • As with most raptors, the female red-tailed hawk is about a third larger than the male.
Identification

  • Key ID Features: Large hawk. Brown above, whitish below, adults have red-tail. Immatures have a dark belly band.
  • Present in Park: Year round. Watch for them soaring along the bluffs or perched in trees along the river.
  • Habitat: Edges of open meadows and on roadsides (often seen perched on poles and signs).
  • Voice: Loud scream. Listen

Did You Know?