We have a hunter in our neighborhood. However, this hunter isn’t limited to just our suburban backyards. The hunter can be seen patiently waiting along our largest highways, perched on a few rooftops and window ledges of our largest cities, and quietly gliding above the nation’s farm fields. The hunter is skilled and efficient, using keen eyesight, hearing and speed to successfully capture its prey. What is this natural predator? It’s a Red-tailed Hawk.
Red-tail hawks are the most common and widespread hawk species in North America. Their range includes southern Alaska, most of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and south to Panama. Birds in our area live here year-round, but northern birds will migrate to warmer climates each fall. They prefer a habitat of open fields mixed with forests, with enough large trees for perching and nesting. These hawks are one of the few species that do not seem to be negatively affected by human development, as they can live very close to people if enough food is available. As a matter of fact, one famous urban bird, a male nicknamed “Pale Male” has successfully nested and raised young in New York City’s bustling Manhattan Borough-the first Red-tailed hawk to do so in several decades.
These raptors are classified as buteos (Latin for “Common Buzzard”), characterized by medium to large size bodies, broad wings and short, wide tails. Like most birds of prey they have sharp, hooked beaks and sharp talons (toes) that are used for capturing prey and tearing off meat. The males and females will usually mate for life unless one bird dies. The sexes look alike, although females tend to be about 25% larger than males. The rusty, red-colored tails (where they get their name from) will not show until they reach maturity, around 3 years old.