Seeing Red

Jun 4, 2015 by Steve Franklin

The red tailed hawk is the most common Hawk in North America. If you’ve got sharp eyes you’ll see several red tail hawks on your drive from Arizona to Rocky Point. Red-tailed Hawks soar high above open fields and deserts slowly turning circles on their broad rounded wings. Other times you’ll see them atop telephone poles or saguaro cactus looking over their territory for their next prey to pounce upon.

Red tails are the largest Hawk in North America and the female is larger than the male. There are several different color patterns throughout North America of red tail hawks but here in the Sonoran Desert they are unmistakable if you can see their top side. Their classic rusty reddish brown tail, if you were to be above them, is very distinct. From below, as you see them soar, the reddish brown tail is hidden very well and to the untrained eye it is hard to distinguish them between a red tail hawk and several other species of hawks.

The red tailed hawk’s wing pattern is very similar to a bald eagle’s wing pattern with straight front wings and rounded on the sides. Falcons have a pointy wing with pointed sides. They attack in a slow controlled dive with legs outstretched much different than a Falcon’s swoop.

Red tail hawks usually have their babies once a year in the spring. They will guard the babies very carefully have been known to dive bomb with their talons out any person that should get too close. The only birds of the sky that the red tail fears is the golden eagle, bald eagle and the great horned owl, all other birds they rule.

They are very similar and often get confused with the red shouldered hawk, which predominantly lives along the eastern coast.

Red tail hawks are monogamous and will mate for life. They make stick type nests high above the ground in trees, telephone poles or cactus, in which the female lays 1 to 5 eggs each spring. Both sexes incubate the eggs for 4 to 5 weeks, and feed their young from the time they hatch until they leave the nest about 6 weeks later.

Red tail hawks have some of the most spectacular aerial acrobatic mating sequences of any bird in the sky. They will fly in large circles and gain great heights before the male plunges into a deep dive and subsequent steep climb back to the female. He will grab onto the female and lock talons in mid-air as they both fall spiraling towards Earth only to let go once they have achieved their goal. They may have been the first to invent the ‘mile high club’.

Fast facts

Red tail hawks live to 21 years of age.

Red tail hawks will eat just about anything that crawls, flies or scampers along the ground.

Red tail hawk parents will care for their young up to 4 months after they leave the nest by watching over them and feeding them.

There are only three types of bird feathers that the American Indian hold sacred and are protected by law, the red tail hawk is one of them.

Red tail hawks are the most common and easily trained hawk in the sport of falconry.

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