Red-Tailed Hawk Species Notes, Development Photos and Case Histories

The largest of our soaring hawks, the Red-tailed Hawk is often seen sailing smoothly overhead, wheeling and turning in the rising currents of air with scarcely a flap of the wings.   These powerful predators feed mainly on rats, mice, rabbits and other small mammals, as well as snakes, insects, and a few birds.  They prefer to hunt over open country, perching or soaring overhead until prey is spotted below.  Because of their long, broad wings, Red-tails are not particularly agile, and do not hunt well in dense wooded areas, but they are able to swoop down and seize their prey with massive and powerful talons.

These birds usually nest high in the tree canopy, as much as 120 feet above the ground.  The nest is built by both sexes, and is usually bulky enough to provide adequate support for the young.   Incubation of the eggs requires 28 to 35 days.  During the young nestling phase, the female tears the food into small pieces to feed the nestlings, and broods them until they are roughly 4 weeks old.  Subsequently food is dropped into the nest, and the young must feed themselves.  Branchers leave the nest 6 to 7 weeks after hatching, but are unable to fly well for several more weeks.  It was a juvenile in this stage of development that is described in Case 1.  At this stage, the adult birds had no difficulty supplying the juvenile that remained in the original nest as well as the juvenile that was on the nest platform nearby.  The fledglings remain dependent on the adults for 5 to 10 weeks after fledging, as they gradually develop their hunting skills.


Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Development Photos

Older nestling






Case Histories

Case #1

Case #2

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