Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Scientific name definitions

C. R. Preston and R. D. Beane
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated May 20, 2009



Breeding Range

Breeds throughout North America from s.-coastal and central Alaska southward to the Baja Peninsula (Figure 1). Found in a great variety of habitats throughout the range, but typically associated with open areas interspersed with woodland. Generally absent from large expanses of treeless terrain (e.g., central sections of the Great Plains and Great Basin, tundra, non-forested wetlands) and dense forest. Patchily distributed in hot deserts where elevated perch and nest sites are available.

Details for selected regions, as follows:

Alaska. From w. and central Alaska to se. Alaska (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a, Armstrong 1995a).

Canada. From the Yukon Territory south to British Columbia (BCBBA 2008), east to Saskatchewan (Smith 1996b), Ontario, s. Quebec, s. Labrador and s. Nova Scotia (Kirk and Hyslop 1998, Sauer et al. 2008a, Cadman et al. 2007a).

West Coast US. Common to abundant in western portions of Washington and Oregon, sparse in the Cascade Mtns., fairly common on the n. Pacific coast. Year-round resident throughout Washington and Oregon (Seattle Audubon Society 2008). Common to abundant throughout California (Unitt 2004c, Contra Costa County BBA 2008, San Fransisco Field Ornithologists 2003).

Rocky Mountains. Breeds throughout the Rocky Mountain Region (Breeding Bird Survey 2008). Common year-round resident in this region; primarily a summer resident at higher elevations and the northern third of Montana (Breeding Bird Survey 2008, Andrews and Righter 1992, Montana National Heritage Program 2008)

Central Plain. Common and widely distributed throughout the central plains in more open areas (Breeding Bird Survey 2008, Peterjohn and Rice 1991). Only scattered records in Mississippi lowlands and where landscapes approach more dense forest habitat (Jacobs and Wilson 1997, Missouri Department of Conservation 2008). Widely distributed in South Dakota, less common in northwest (Peterson 1995).

Northeast US. Broadly distributed and fairly common, sparse in upstate NY (esp. Adirondacks) and Maine (NYBBA, Breeding Bird Survey 2008, http://www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/bba/bbaMaps.cfm?bndcode=RTHA&year=2000).

Southeast US. South Texas, Gulf Coast to Florida (Breeding Bird Survey 2008 Benson and Arnold 2001). A familiar bird throughout Florida except southern tip and in the Keys (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2003).

Middle America. Sinaloa, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas; also Tres Marias and Socorro islands (Walter 1990, Howell and Webb 1995). Also from Mexico south through the highlands of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Howell and Webb 1995).

Caribbean. Puerto Rico, n. Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and n. Lesser Antilles (Raffaele et al. 2003).

See also Systematics: subspecies.

Winter Range

From s. Canada south throughout breeding range in U.S., Mexico, and into the lowlands of Central America (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a; Fig. 1). Historically reported wintering south to Costa Rica and w. Panama (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989), recently reported as far south as Venezuela and Colombia (Hilty 1999, Castaño R and Colorado Z 2002). In northern portion of winter range, winters as far north as s. Canada, primarily British Columbia and Ontario, uncommon in Quebec and Nova Scotia, and rare in other southern provinces (National Audubon Society 2009c).

In U.S. common along the Pacific coast, uncommon to rare in Great Basin and n. Rockies, fairly common to common in s. Rockies, common in midwest, se., and ne. U.S., uncommon to rare in n. New England (National Audubon Society 2009c). An area extending from e. Washington into se. Idaho and n. Utah has some of the highest recorded densities of wintering Red-tails (Ferguson 2004). Year-round resident populations across the U.S. are generally augmented by northern latitude breeders in winter (Eakle et al. 1996, Knight et al. 1999). Winter populations fluctuate locally in response to the density and availability of prey (Gietzen et al. 1997, Knight et al. 1999). In Texas, distribution of Red-tailed Hawks shifts latituduinally in response to El Nino and La Nina events (Kim et al. 2008).

Extralimital Records

Reported from the Florida Keys, Bermuda, Newfoundland (Bent 1937b, Palmer 1988f, American Ornithologists' Union 1998a, National Audubon Society 2009c).

Historical Changes to the Distribution

Range expanded through e. North America in response to forest clearing for agriculture and urban growth. Has largely replaced Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) in partially cleared bottomland forest through much of the e. and midwestern U.S. (e.g., Bent 1937b, Petersen 1979a, Gehring 2003). Has also extended breeding range, or at least become more common, through the n. Great Plains of North America during the last 100 yr -- a result of increased tree growth in formerly treeless grasslands (Houston and Bechard 1983).

Distribution of the Red-tailed Hawk - Range Map
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk, Abundance map
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Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis


Relative abundance is depicted for each season along a color gradient from a light color indicating lower relative abundance to a dark color indicating a higher relative abundance. Relative abundance is the estimated average count of individuals detected by an eBirder during a 1 hour, 1 kilometer traveling checklist at the optimal time of day for each species.   Learn more about this data

Relative abundance
Breeding season
May 10 - Aug 10
Non-breeding season
Dec 7 - Mar 1
Pre-breeding migratory season
Mar 8 - May 3
Post-breeding migratory season
Aug 17 - Nov 30
Note: Seasonal ranges overlap and are stacked in the order above; view full range in season maps.
Seasons timeline
Learn more about seasons

Recommended Citation

Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane (2020). Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rethaw.01