SPECIES

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

Photos from this Account

Adult (borealis)

Large with a red tail. Mostly pale below, with a darker belly band, wing tips, and edges of the flight feathers. Head brown with a white throat.

Adult (borealis)

Large with a red tail. Mostly brownish above with variable white in the wing coverts and lower back forming a pale 'V' on the upperwings. Eastern subspecies (borealis) tends to have plain red tail with neat black band near the tip.

Adult light morph (calurus/alascensis)

Western subspecies (calurus) differs in being more richly colored below on average, and more heavily-marked. The body plumage is polymorphic in the western subspecies, occurring in light (as here), intermediate, and dark morphs.

Adult light morph (calurus/alascensis)

The red tail is more obvious when viewed from above. Otherwise all dark brown with light barring in the flight feathers.

Adult dark morph (calurus/alascensis)

Some dark morphs are strongly reddish-brown below, especially on the chest.

Adult dark morph (calurus/alascensis)

Dark chocolatey-brown body and wing linings, with paler flight feathers lightly barred and contrasting with dark wing tips and edges to the flight feathers.

Adult light morph (abieticola)

Large with a red tail. Mostly pale below, with a heavy darker belly band. Dark wing tips and edges to flight feathers contrast with paler wings.

Adult dark morph (Harlan's)

Chocolatey-brown below, with lightly barred whitish flight feathers, dark wing tips and edges to the flight feathers, and a mostly whitish tail with a dark tip.

Adult light morph (Harlan's)

Mostly pale below with a heavy dark belly band, dark wing tips and edges to the flight feathers, and dark tips to a white tail.

Adult dark morph (Harlan's)

Adult Harlan's tail pattern highly variable above, characterized by white, gray, and black mottling and longitudinal streaking. Some lack red altogether.

Adult (Krider's)

Subspecies characterized by extremely lightly-marked underparts with faint patagial mark (often rufous toned) and faint to absent belly band.

Adult (Krider's)

Subspecies typically has rufous-toned upperparts with extensive white spangling, and whitish-based tail with red to pinkish tip.

Adult (costaricensis)

Birds in Costa Rica and Panama have rufous bellies and wing linings, pale flight feathers contrasting with dark wingtips and flight feather edges, and chocolatey-brown head and shoulders.

Juvenile light morph (calurus/alascensis)

Heavily streaked below, with bold barring on the wings, dark wingtips, and a lightly barred pale tail.

Juvenile dark morph (calurus/alascensis)

Very heavily streaked below, with darkly checkered wing linings, boldly barred wings with dark wingtips, and a finely barred brown and white tail.

Juvenile dark morph (Harlan's)

Very heavily streaked below, with darkly checkered wing linings, boldly barred wings with barred wingtips, and a finely barred brown and white tail.

Juvenile (Krider's)

Very pale, almost white head. Brown above mixed with white feathering, and finely barred wings and tail.

Adult (borealis)

Pale below with light reddish-brown streaking on the chest and a bold brown belly band. Head brown with some darker markings. Red tail often not visible on perched birds.

Juvenile (borealis)

Pale below with a broad and bold brown belly band. Head brown mixed with white feathering. Tail barred brown and whitish.

Juvenile (Krider's)
Adult dark morph (calurus/alascensis)

Eats a wide variety of prey, including snakes, and occurs in many different habitats.

Adult (borealis)

Often mobbed by smaller birds, especially during the nesting season.

Habitat

Occurs in a wide variety of habitats, and often nests on or near cliffs.

Adult rufous morph

Darker variant calurus include individuals that are largely rufous below, as well as those that are largely brownish or blackish below (scarce).

Adult dark-morph "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk, Cache Valley, Utah, December 2003.

Harlan's is among the darkest of the Red-tailed Hawk subspecies, often jet black below with contrasting whitish tail.  Note the pale flecking on the upper breast, typical of harlani.  The mottled gray blurry barring on the flight feathers is also typical of harlani.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Juvenile dark-morph "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Lake Valley, Utah, November 2003.

Juvenile dark and rufous-morph calurus are very similar in overall appearance, with dark-morphs presumably more heavily marked below than rufous-morphs.  This bird is at the heavily marked end of the spectrum.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Adult "Eastern" Red-tailed Hawk, Swainton, New Jersey, August 1996.

Note the bulging full crop on this bird, which is feeding on a prey item.  The crop is used to store food temporarily, allowing quick ingestion of large prey items.  The pale throat is typical of the eastern race, B. j. borealis.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Juvenile light-morph "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Bountiful Peak, Utah, October 2003.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks of all subspecies lack red tails throughout their first year of life.  Starting in late spring, they start to replace their brown tail feathers with adult plumage brick red feathers.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Adult light-morph "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Goshute Mtns., Nevada, October 1998.

This relatively colorful light-morph calurus Red-tailed Hawk, differs from light-morph borealis in having more rufous tones on the underparts, a dark throat and barred leggings.  ; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Juvenile "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Jackpot, Nevada, September 2002.

Juvenile western Red-tailed Hawks are very similar to their eastern borealis counterparts.  Most are more heavily marked below overall than easterns, but throat color varies from light to dark.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Juvenile light x intermediate "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Bountiful Peak, UT, October.

Most likely, this type of juvenile will become a very rufous-toned light-morph adult with a prominent bellyband and marked underwings. These kind of light morphs appear much like a rufous (intermediate) morph overall, but they are atypical and uncommon.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Adult rufous-morph "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Goshute Mtns., Nevada, October 2000.

Rufous-morph calurus are encountered more frequently than pure dark-morphs across much of the West.  Characters typical of this morph are a dark belly band, with solid rufous breast and dark rufous underwing coverts.; photographer Jerry and Sherry Liguori

Adult dark-morph "Western" Red-tailed Hawk, Minnesota, October.

An usually patterned dark-morph calurus individual, perhaps with some harlani genes.  Typically, Red-taileds that are this dark, lack pale markings in the underwing coverts and belly.; photographer Rick and Nora Bowers

Juvenile Harlan's Hawk, British Columbia, January.

Aldergrove, BC. The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/waslin/, Jan 19, 2009; photographer Wes Aslin

Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML234983001.
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of breeding pair at this location (ML234983001).
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236686701.
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236686691.
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236686701).
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236686701).
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site.
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236688941.
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML234994241).
Adult  female light morph. Resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of breeding pair from this location (ML234985941)
Adult female light morph; resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile light morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236698371).
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236948711.
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236948721.
Breeding adult male.
Adult female intermediate (rufous) morph; resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile intermediate morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236696981).
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236900931.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236900931.
Adult female intermediate (rufous) morph; resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile intermediate morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236902221).
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site.
Juvenile intermediate morph. Offspring of resident pair at this site (ML236904821).
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236957851.
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236957861.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236965361.
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236965551.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236962141.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML236962131.
Adult light morph. Resident breeder at this site.
Adult female intermediate (rufous) morph; resident breeder at this site. Paired with light-morph male on same checklist.
Adult female light morph; breeder at this site.
Adult female light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML238120661.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with ML238120721.
Adult male light morph. Resident breeder at this site. Paired with a typical light morph female.
Adult female intermediate (rufous) morph; resident breeder at this site.
Adult female intermediate (rufous) morph; resident breeder at this site.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult intermediate-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Adult dark-morph. Same bird as ML116598131.
Adult light-morph. An atypical individual with much rufous below.
Adult light-morph.
Adult light-morph. Same bird as ML43077971.
Adult light-morph.
Adult light-morph.
Adult dark-morph.
Juvenile intermediate-morph.
Adult light-morph.
Juvenile dark-morph.
Juvenile light-morph.
Juvenile dark-morph.
Juvenile light-morph.
Juvenile dark-morph.
Adult light-morph.
Adult

Note pale head and clean white underparts.

Adult

Note clean white underwing with faint rufous-toned patagial marks.

Adult

Note white-based tail and extensive rufous tones in the upperwing coverts.

Juvenile

Juvenile can be very similar to Harlan's, but note whitish ground color to upperside of tail, and neat narrow tail bands. Overall most juveniles are white-headed with spangled white upperwing coverts, and bold white wing panels in the outer wings.

Red-tailed Hawk nest in saguaro cactus, central Arizona, April 1996.

; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Immature Red-tailed Hawks at nest, Portage, Porter Co., IN., May

The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/56869605@N00/, May 22, 2005; photographer Terry Swanson

Adult male Red-tailed Hawk leaving nest after delivering food; City College of NY City, April.

Urban nesting is rare but increasing phenomenon in the RT Hawk, showing the ability of this species to adapt to human landscapes and disturbance. The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbs10025/, Apr 27, 2008; photographer Robert Schmunk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk with Northern Flicker prey. Colorado Springs, CO. October.

This image came from CLO's Birdshare Flickr Pool. The following link is to this contributer's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dziegler/, Oct 13, 2008; photographer Darin Ziegler

Juvenile stooping on prey.

Versatile hunters, they often use elevated perches to scan the surrounding area for prey, but also hover, kite, and stoop from above, especially when winds are favorable for keeping them aloft.

Adult Female Red-tailed Hawk stripping bark for nest. NY City, March.

, Mar 14, 2004; photographer Cal Vornberger

Adult female Red-tailed Hawk nest building; NY City, May.

This chick was blown up and out of its nest by a sudden updraft, still clutching part of the nest when the wind carried him upwards., May 29, 2004; photographer Cal Vornberger

Adult Red-tailed Hawk adult at nest with chicks. Cochrane, Alberta, June.

The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mama_lumen/, Jun 29, 2008; photographer gnude2000

Red-tailed Hawk nestling, St. John the Divine, NYC, May.

The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbs10025/, May 31, 2007; photographer Robert Schmunk


Macaulay Library Photos for Red-tailed Hawk

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

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