Monday, November 2, 2009

In the countryside... Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed HawkJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 22 November 2007 by Greg Gillson.


Throughout the Pacific NW and, indeed, most of North America, the Red-tailed Hawk is the default large hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks are buteos, with broad wings with rounded tips and rather short tails. Falcons have pointed wings, Accipiters have shorter wings and long tail, harriers have longer tail, ospreys have bent wings, eagles are larger and more evenly-colored.

Highly variable, some birds are very pale, others are very dark and others may be entirely rusty or even all-blackish. Many Red-tailed Hawks in the Pacific NW are very similar to this bird. They show heavy streaking on the belly with an obvious unmarked pale chest. The leading edge of the inner wing from below is dark (see it in the photo above?).

As an adult these birds will have a brick red tail. However, many fall birds are juveniles with finely banded tail as shown by the bird in the photo.

Red-tailed Hawks are common birds of open country with trees, power poles, or fence posts for perching. Travel any of the regions highways and you'll see them. They'll be hunting rabbits, mice, frogs, or snakes in the median between the north and south bound lanes of Interstate 5. They don't hunt in the deep forests and are not fond of empty grasslands or sage flats with no trees or power poles for miles. In such places they are replaced in summer by Ferruginous and Swainson's Hawks, and in winter by Rough-legged Hawks.

They can also be spotted on sunny days soaring high in the air on thermals.

They build stick nests in May about 2 feet across. In January, before they get back on territory, their old nests may be used by Great Horned Owls to nest in.