Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis
Immature most often seen; light breast, dark belly band
Brown plumage above; barred tail of immature not yet red
Piercing yellow eyes of immature
Adult has dark leading edge on wings, and a rufous red tail
Wyoming subspecies dark beneath with red tail
Denver subspecies darker above, but red tail persists
Rhode Island immature scanning for prey
Wyoming immature with talons ready to swoop down on prey
Brown-eyed adult in Oregon models sharp meat-ripping beak
Heavy prey is eaten on the ground in California ...
... in Massachusetts, and at ...
... Salter Grove, by the vernal pond
Perch used for lighter fare; such as this small vole, and ...
... garter snake in Rhode Island
European starling is fair game in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Eggs are huge compared to Yellow Warbler eggs in nest
Clutch with 1-5 eggs; both parents build stick nest in tree crown
Female tears freshly hunted meat for nestlings
Fledgling landing back on nest placed on cliffside
Parent returning to nest on building at NY Botanical Garden
Parent brings duckling to nest on metal ladder in St. Louis
Can't nest higher than this in Calgary!
Innocent immature mobbed by Northern Mockingbird
Immature turning table on American Crow

The Red-tailed Hawk visits Salter Grove sporadically during the colder months at Salter Grove.  Immatures are seen more often than adults.  Individuals have been observed singly throughout the various habitats of the park, soaring overhead, perched on tree tops, or feeding on the ground within woodland.

Both adult and immature birds in flight can be distinguished from other soaring raptors by their light underparts and the dark leading edge of the broad, rounded wings.  The light breast contrasts strongly with a dark band of vertical bars that encircle the belly.  When perched, both the head and upperparts are dark brown.  Adults have brown eyes and a rufous red tail whereas immatures have yellowish eyes and a brown tail with dark bands.

The Red-tailed Hawk is well equipped with a sharp recurved beak and talons to capture small mammalian prey such as voles, meadow mice, hares and rabbits over open ground.  Its ability to hunt other small vertebrates such as birds, fish, frogs and snakes means that it can thrive in habitats where small mammals are not abundant.

It ranges across North America from the sub-arctic to Panama and the West Indies.  Most bird tend to be year-round residents except for birds in the far north that move south to escape the harsh winter.  It stays away from dense forest and sandy deserts but occurs in nearly all other habitats ranging from woodland to agricultural fields, and even tall buildings in urban areas as long as there are high perches for swooping down on prey.

Favorable habitats for the Red-tailed Hawk have increased along with the development of highways across North America, especially where patches of woodland alternate with cleared areas.  It is the most likely hawk encountered on any long road trip.  Its wide distribution has resulted in 14 subspecies with geographically distinct plumages that vary in the darkness of the underparts.  However,  the red tail remains a reliable identifying characteristic for adults.

The Red-tailed Hawk was reported to be a rare summer resident in Rhode Island in the late 1800's.  However, data collected during 1982-1987 for The First Atlas of Breeding Birds in Rhode Island revealed it to occupy 44% of the 165 survey blocks in the state.  Since then, its expansion has continued across a variety of habitats.  Surveys during 2015-2019 for the Second Breeding Atlas document it to be present in 86% of the atlas blocks in the Rhode Island study area.

For more information:

Clarkson, C. E., Osenkowski, J. E., Steen, V. A., Duhaime, R. J., and Paton, W.C. (2023) The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Rhode Island.  Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish and Wildlife.  pp. 190-191.