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Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is one of the most widespread and recognizable birds of prey in North America. Visit our Birds of Prey exhibit to admire these majestic raptors up close. Let’s dive into some exciting facts about their diet, habitat, size, and conservation status, as well as unique characteristics that make the Red-tailed Hawk a true marvel of nature.


Red-tailed Hawks are carnivorous predators, primarily feeding on small to medium-sized mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. Their diet also includes reptiles, amphibians, and other birds. They are skilled hunters, utilizing their keen eyesight and powerful talons to capture prey both on the ground and in the air.


Red-tailed Hawks inhabit a diverse range of habitats across North America, from forests and grasslands to deserts and urban areas. They can be found throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as in parts of Central America. These adaptable raptors prefer open areas with elevated perches, such as trees, cliffs, or poles, which they use to scan for prey.

Size and Weight

Red-tailed Hawks are large birds of prey, with a wingspan ranging from 38 to 43 inches (97 to 110 cm). Their body length typically measures between 18 to 26 inches (45 to 65 cm), and they weigh between 1.5 to 3.5 pounds (0.7 to 1.6 kg). Females are generally larger and heavier than males.

Conservation Status

The Red-tailed Hawk is currently listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Their population is considered stable and widespread across their range. However, they may face local threats such as habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and collisions with vehicles or man-made structures.

Unique Characteristics

Distinctive Tail:

The Red-tailed Hawk is named for its striking reddish-brown tail, which is easily visible in adults when they are soaring or perched. Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks have a brownish, banded tail that gradually becomes redder as they mature.

Soaring Expert:

Red-tailed Hawks are known for their exceptional soaring abilities, often riding thermals (rising columns of warm air) to conserve energy while searching for prey. They can be spotted circling high above the ground, their red tails shining in the sunlight.


The Red-tailed Hawk is known for its distinctive, piercing scream, often used as a sound effect to represent eagles or other birds of prey in movies and television.

Variation in Plumage:

Red-tailed Hawks exhibit a wide variety of plumage colors and patterns, with regional differences often referred to as "morphs." This variation can make identification challenging, but the red tail remains a consistent feature in adult birds.

Visit the Red-tailed Hawk at the Abilene Zoo

During your visit to the Abilene Zoo, be sure to stop by our Elm Creek Backyard to observe the awe-inspiring Red-tailed Hawk. With their impressive size, powerful presence, and iconic red tail, these raptors are a must-see for bird enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. By learning about their unique adaptations and the important role they play in the ecosystem, you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for these magnificent birds of prey.

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