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Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

by Dan Sandri

Red-tailed Hawk

Dan Sandri

Keep an eye out and an ear open! The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is probably the most common hawk across the country, and is often seen above and around Mount Diablo State Park. Our Red-tailed Hawks are most numerous across California in Winter, when many hawks return from northern lands.

These are large, broad-winged hawks that usually (but not always!) exhibit an orange-red tail. Along with the tail, the best indicator that the hawk you are looking at is a Red-tailed Hawk is a brown-streaked “belly-band” (sometimes dark, sometimes more finely-streaked) across the tummy, and dark patagial lines on the front edge of the underside of the wing when seen from below. See the photos for examples of the belly band and patagial lines. Identification can get tricky if the bird is dark Harlan’s subspecies or a dark-morph adult or juvenile.

Their preferred food is mammals, such as voles, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits and the like, but they will also eat lizards, snakes, birds and other animals. Because they have hollow bones, these large hawks are quite light in weight - an adult female might weigh in at only 3 pounds. Their classic, recorded scream can be heard in many a Western movie, even when the bird shown is an eagle or a kite!

Bird Guide:

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