Georgia Wildlife Web

Home Glossary Classification Conservation Status Regions of Georgia Fishes of Georgia Make a Donation

Species Description

Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Species Image
Last      Next


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae


Mottled brown head, back, and wings. The rusty-red on the upper side of the adult's tail can be seen best when this hawk veers while soaring. From below the tail is paler. The underside of the bird is white with a rusty band across the breast and a mottled dark band across the belly. Otherwise, plumage can be quite variable. On the lighter color phases, white feathers on the legs may be conspicuous. These are large hawks, 56 cm (22 in) from tip of bill to tip of tail. When one views the soaring bird from below, the bird appears light brown overall with broad wings, and a distinct, somewhat rounded, wedge-shaped, red tail.

Life Cycle

Breeding season lasts from late February to early September. Mates stay together between breeding seasons and perform elaborate aerial courtship displays prior to nesting. Habitat for nesting includes woodlands near open fields. Large stick nests are built 5-23 m (15-70 ft) above the ground in trees. The 2 - 3 eggs are white with brown speckles. Incubation lasts about 30 days. Young are altricial and leave the nest about 45 days after hatching. They remain close to their parents and receive food for about 4 more weeks after fledging.

Natural History

Common habitat includes grasslands and agricultural fields with perches near woodlands. The Red-tailed Hawk forages primarily on rodents and also on some small birds and reptiles. A common predator upon its nestlings is the Great-horned Owl.


Red-tailed Hawk Region Map The Red-tailed Hawk occurs year-round throughout Georgia where suitable habitat is present. The species ranges throughout the United States.

Conservation Status

The Red-tailed Hawk is common in appropriate habitats.

Similar Species

The Red-tailed Hawk may be confused with the Red-shouldered Hawk, which is smaller (48 cm, or19 in, long) and which has a reddish breast and a barred tail. When perched, the Red-tailed Hawk appears stocky but the Red-shouldered Hawk appears slender. In flight, the Red-tailed Hawk often soars in circles high overhead and gives a single harsh call; the Red-shouldered Hawk flaps its wings and gives repeated harsh calls.