Page 138 - A Field Guide to Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife
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-tailed Hawk

(Buteo jamaicensis)


These chunky hawks are among the
most common birds of prey in Northern
Virginia. The body is brown, the breast white streaked with brown, and the
tail brick-colored on top. Juveniles are duller and streakier and have no red
in their tails. Sizes range from 45 to 65 centimeters long with a 1 to 1.5 meter
wingspan. Red-tailed Hawks utter a raspy scream (Keyarrrr!) that is instantly
recognizable. When you hear a hawk screech sound effect on TV or in the
movies, it’s almost always a Red-tailed Hawk! These birds usually mate for life.
When unmated birds meet, they perform a dazzling courtship ritual of flying
very high, then locking their claws and spiraling towards the earth, letting go
before they hit the ground. Nests are built in tall trees overlooking open areas.
Both partners help build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young.
They are fiercely territorial and aggressively defend their territory. While not
truly migratory, Red-tailed Hawks move around a lot in fall and spring.

Distribution and Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks live year-round in all five physiographic provinces. They are
usually found in open habitats including coastal areas, wetlands, fields and
pastures, parks and woodlands. They’re often seen soaring over open areas
or perched on telephone poles or trees by the roadside.

These birds have amazing eyesight Role in Food Web
which is much sharper than a human’s.
A Red-tailed Hawk can spot a mouse Red-tailed Hawks hunt mostly small
from a height of 100 feet! mammals, although they also prey
on a wide variety of birds, reptiles,
amphibians, fish and invertebrates.
They also eat carrion. Eggs and
young are preyed upon by snakes
and by other raptors.

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