Scientific Name: Beauteo jamaicensis
Appearance: Red tailed hawks have a distinguishing dark "belly band" over a whitish breast. The tail is dark red with a black terminal band. Juveniles and first year red tails have a tail that is whitish underneath like the mature adult, but the top side is brown with black bands - there is no red at all. Juveniles often exhibit brown streaking on their bellies. There are 4 light-morph and 3 dark morph variations recognized within the species.
Size: weight ranges from 1.5 pounds for a male up to 3.5 pounds for a female. Wingspan ranges from 43 to 52 inches, body from top of head to the tail averages 19 inches.
Range: Red tails can be found all over the United States, Canada and Alaska. Northernmost red-tails tend to migrate, the others can stay in their ranges all year. Red-tails prefer both open and wooded areas.
Food Preferences: small rodents, rabbits, squirrels, insects & larvae, fish, snakes. Food preferences of individual red-tailed hawks can be highly variable. For example, our educational bird "Nick" likes the bigger prey such as large rats and squirrels, while her counterpart "Harlan" loves to eat mice and small rats.
Hunting Technique: Most often will sit on a promising high perch and wait for prey to come near, but also pursues prey at high speeds, dives on it from high in the air, or steals prey from other raptors or crows. Has been documented eating fresh carrion, also can hunt on foot - running down their prey or hopping on it from a short distance.
Breeding: Monogamous, mate for life.
Nesting: platform nest of twigs and sticks, often lined and decorated with fresh twigs and strips of bark from nearby trees. The nest can be reused by the same pair for many years.
Eggs: usually 2 -3 white to bluish-white eggs, spotted with brown or sometimes unmarked, laid in late March. There is usually at least a day-long interval between laying each egg. If for some reason the first clutch of eggs is destroyed, red-tails will sometimes lay a second set 3 - 4 weeks later, usually in another nest.
Chicks: Incubation lasts about 34 days per egg, young are immobile when they hatch, with downy feathers and open eyes. The young first leave the nest after they are 42 - 46 days old and will stay with the parents for an additional 30 - 70 days.
Status: dark phase red tails are very rarely seen in West Virginia, although they are plentiful in western states and Canada.
NOTES: Red Tails are well-known for their keen eyesight: have you ever heard the term "hawk eyed"? If you think of a camera lens, you are pretty much looking at the same mechanism that a red-tail uses to focus and to see far distances. Inside the skull, right where the eye comes out of the skull the eye is surrounded with cartilage plates which are held together by ligaments. Whenever the bird wants to see a far distance all it has to do is constrict the ligaments which constrict the cartilage plates. This in turn makes the eyeball itself elongate, allowing the hawk to zoom in on something over a mile away. Just like the zoom lens on a camera. They also have the ability though to see on 3 different planes with each eye: like having trifocals on and looking through whichever part of the lens they want. AND add to that that their brain is wired to the eyes in such a way that they can see something out of one eye, and another something out of the other eye and keep the two images separate in their minds. Quite a feat!