Red-tailed Hawk photo by Amanda Atkins

Red-tailed Hawk

A large, stocky hawk with broad and fairly rounded wings, and a wingspan of about 4 ft. Plumage is extremely variable in pattern and amount of dark; at least 4 light morph (variety) and 3 dark morph subgroups have been identified, with color phases ranging from pale, to "normal," to reddish, to dark. All of these interbreed, so individual variation in this one species of hawk is enormous. Sexes are similar in appearance, with much size overlap, but females are generally larger.

The reddish tail of the adult is distinctive to this species, but juvenile birds (and some color morphs) lack this feature. Most adults have a belly band of dark streaks on white underparts. Another identifying point common to all subgroups is a dark mark on the leading edge of the underwing, visible in flight. This is the most common and widespread hawk in North America - and also has the most variable pattern of plumage of all hawk species on the continent. Flight pattern of flapping and gliding is often seen when this bird hunts on the wing. Most often they are seen in soaring flight, with the wings held in a slight dihedral or broad U-shape.


Meet our resident Red-tailed Hawks:

Banjo was acquired by a falconer in Indiana in 2004 and flown as a hunting bird for one season. Unfortunately, he hit a window and caused irreparable damage to his right eye. Structurally, the eye appears perfect but he has imperfect vision. He's very comfortable around humans and joined the Cascades Raptor Center's Education Team in December 2005. As an Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, his coloring is different from the Western individuals. He is also significantly larger than a Western male Red-tailed Hawk. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Banjo:
Spunky Gray & Barb Tyler  •  Daniel Harris   •  June & Brian Bakshas  •  Shane & Ally Kramer  
Richard Golgart, Jr.   •  Nancy & Jason Kamholz  •  Eskar  •  Abe Lawless

Uriel was a passage (first-year) bird when she was found in West Eugene in November 1996. She was starving, with an old broken toe and a partially healed laceration to her left wing, probably from barbed wire. The skin was trying to heal under the bone, which had left her humerus exposed on three sides. The medical team was able to restore much of the soft tissue, but the loss of some necrotic bone left the wing with imperfect extension, leaving her unable to fly. After healing and rehabilitation she joined the Education Team. Uriel is an expert nest builder and will take any branch or twig offered by staff and volunteers. Her immaculate nest will often contain between 2-4 eggs in the spring. Even while sitting on her nest, she is enthusiastic about her training session, standing when the handler approaches, stretching her legs after sitting on her eggs for long periods of time.

Adoptive "Parents" of Uriel:
Valerie Viterbi - In loving memory of my beloved husband, Alexander J. Viterbi  •  Edward Austin   
The Wrede Family  •   Peter Eveleth  •  Julie Hamilton  •  Quinn & Rebecca Miller   
Sophie Rinaldi   •   Lori Whipkey & Taylor Hill  •  Jacqueline Hartman  •  Redtail Roofing LLC   


Scientific Name

Buteo jamaicensis


Length 18.0 - 22.5"
Wing Span < 45"
Weight 1.7 - 2.4 lb.


Length 20.5 - 25.0"
Wing Span 48 - 54"
Weight 2.0 - 3.1 lb.


State and federally protected.


Lives in coniferous to mixed and deciduous woodland, prairies, woodlots, fields and roadsides, to saguaros and tropical rainforests; lives at all elevations from sea level to 9,000 ft. Habitat for this hawk is extremely variable -- as are its hunting habits and its plumage, which are designed to take advantage of each particular habitat and way of making a living.


Over 85% of the diet consists of rodents, but this hawk is a very opportunistic hunter and will eat other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Primary hunting style is to perch and wait; frequently seen on a conspicuous roadside tree or fencepost. This hawk most often hunts from a perch at wood's edge, but can also hunt in more open or forested areas. Other common hunting styles are soaring at high altitude for prey (and to announce territorial ownership), and hover hunting.


A loud, wheezing, descending kkeeeeerr is the most common call of this sturdy hawk.


Prefers nesting in a tall, open-crowned tree with good views and access to suitable hunting grounds, usually in open woodland or forest edges. Builds a bulky twig and stick nest, lining it with greenery and strips of bark; often builds on an old nest, and may alternate between several perennial nests.

Most Common Problems

Collision with vehicles; also gunshot, electrocution, hitting power lines, barbed wire fences, poisoning and leg-hold traps.

Range Map

Breeding range extends from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south into Panama. Northernmost birds are migratory, retreating south from northern areas in severe cold when out of breeding season.



Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design