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-taileds 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-taileds 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.
A large female red-tailed hawk may have a 48" wide wingspan.
Redtaileds have a wide range of color variations, including a very light color phase, called a "Krider's" redtailed 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.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Key ID Features: Large hawk. Brown above, whitish below, adults have red-tail. Immatures have a dark belly band.
Present in Park: Year round, but many do migrate northward into our area in mid-February with many remaining into early winter.
Habitat: Edges of open meadows and on roadsides (often seen perched on poles and signs).
Did You Know?
At the headwaters of the Mississippi, the average surface speed of the water is 1.2 miles per hour. People typically walk 3 miles per hour.