Red-tailed Hawk Habits

One of the most commonly seen, the Red-tailed Hawk can be found all across North America.

Preferring a variety of open habitats, this bird of prey can be seen holding still into the wind while hunting.

In some Native American cultures, the feathers of this bird are considered sacred and are used in religious ceremonies.

Interestingly to note, most hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails.

Red-tailed Hawk in Tree

Red-tailed Hawk in Tree

Red-tailed Hawk Call

Description, What Do They Look Like

A large bird, the Red-tailed Hawk measures 19 to 26 inches in length with a wingspan of 4 1/2 feet. The female is up to a third larger than the male.

The plumage of these birds varies depending on the region in which it resides.

Typically, the adult bird is a dark brown above with a white breast and a band across the belly.

The tail is brick red on the upper side.

Immature Red-tails are similar in appearance, except the tail is brown, turning reddish the following spring.

Mating Courtship Habits

The mating and breeding habits of these birds begin at about three years of age and include aerial displays meant to advertise their readiness for breeding.

Red-tailed Hawk Feeding Young at Nest

Young at Nest

These courtship displays are a demonstration of their agility as they soar high in the sky, making wide circles and then diving to treetop levels.

The breeding season begins in late winter or early spring.

Generally, monogamous birds, remaining with the same mate throughout the breeding season and often pairing or mating for life.

Male and female will stay in the same nesting territory every year, even using the same nest.

In the event one dies, the remaining one will quickly seek out a new mate.

Nesting Habits

The males and females participate in the building of the nest, which is a platform constructed of sticks and twigs, lined with bark and greenery.

Nest building may begin in February with the first egg being laid by mid-March.

Old nests are reused with some refurbishing by adding sticks and greenery.

As Seen on PBS The story of Pale Male.
The Program the Audubon Society has proclaimed "a classic."

Order Your DVD Today!

The nest is located in a tree 15 to 120 feet above the ground. Sometimes nests are built on cliffs.

The female lays one egg every other day until a clutch of 1 to 4 bluish-white eggs with dark marks is complete. Most commonly lays 2 to 3 eggs.

Incubation begins after the first egg is laid. The eggs hatch over several days.

The male and female share incubation duties with the female incubating longer times. The eggs hatch after 28 to 35 days of incubation.

The young will leave the nest in 44 to 46 days after hatching.

Raises only one brood a season. May re-nest if the first nesting attempt is unsuccessful.

Red-tailed Hawks are very territorial towards others of their species. Sometimes locking talons in flight with intruders.

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight reddish tail in Clear View

Feeding Habits

In the nest, the male feeds both the female and the young. Occasionally, the female may make short hunting trips.

Highly valued by farmers, the Red-tailed Hawk may perch, hover, or hold still into the wind when hunting.

While they eat mice, birds, large insects, reptiles, and other small mammals, it's rats, voles, and hares that make up the bulk of their diet

Most of their hunting (60 - 80 percent) is done while perched. The eyesight of a Red-tailed Hawk is about eight times stronger than humans.

Red-tail Hawk Feeding in Tree

Migration Red-tailed Hawk

Only the northern populations of the Red-tailed Hawk (Alaska, Canada, northern United States) migrate south in winter. Others are non-migratory.


The average lifespan in the wild ranges from 13 to 20 years. In captivity, lifespans are usually longer.

What to Do When You Find Hawks At Your Feeders

Learn the Habits of the Cooper's Hawk

Frequently Asked

Are Red-tailed Hawks Rare?

Probably the most common of the raptors, Red-tails have expanded into Eastern North America and the Northern Great Plains.

The reason for this expansion is likely due to the increased clearing for agriculture.

Can They Pick Up A Dog or Cat?

At the high end, a Red-tail may be able to lift at most, 5 pounds. So a dog or cat weighing more would be too much.

However, keep in mind, if your dog or cat gets too close to a nest site, it may be attacked.

Predators of Red-tails

Predators include Humans, Great Horned Owls, Crows, and Ravens.

Raccoons and snakes will eat the eggs and young while in the nests.