Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis State Botanical Garden, Athens, GA - July, 2014

Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
State Botanical Garden, Athens, GA

There are two hawks that are frequently seen here: the Red-tailed Hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk.  The Red-tailed Hawk is of the genus Buteo while the Cooper’s Hawk is of the genus Accipiter. What’s the significance of the genus?  Mainly that Red-tailed Hawks, a Buteo, will usually be seen soaring high overhead since that’s what they do: soar on thermals at mid-day over openings. [1]  Cooper’s Hawks on the other hand live and hunt in deeply wooded areas; [7] you’re more likely to see them down low on branches and even rooftops.

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - November 10, 2014

Red-tailed Hawk over Peachtree Park – Nov, 2014

So look up – way up.  Often we can hear Red-tailed Hawks calling before we see them.  Usually there is more than one, and they will circle high up in widening patterns.

Though the markings and hue vary across different subspecies, the basic appearance of the Red-Tailed hawk is consistent. Overall, this species is blocky and broad in shape, often appearing (and being) heavier than other Buteos of similar length.  The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and light buff-orange below. [1]

Red-tailed Hawks are famous for their call.  Turns out that the calls of the Bald Eagle are a bit wimpy, where as the calls of the Red-tailed Hawk are the sound that Hollywood directors are looking for to represent a menacing raptor cry. [3]

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk protecting his catch

The Great Horned Owl occupies a similar ecological niche nocturnally to the Red-tail, taking similar prey.  Competition may occur between the hawk and owl species during twilight, although the differing nesting season and activity times usually results in a lack of direct competition.  Although the Red-tail’s prey is on average larger (due in part to the scarcity of diurnal squirrels in the owl’s diet), the owl is an occasional predator of red-tailed hawks themselves, of any age, while the hawks are not known to predate adult Great Horned Owls.

There is a Red-Tailed Hawk that is apparently a well known fixture at the State Botanical Garden in Athens.  One afternoon he landed on the ground less than 10 feet away. He was not the least bit concerned that a person was there and hunted enthusiastically for five minutes in the flowers.  Most of our other sightings of Red-tails have been from 100 feet or more below them as they soar over the neighborhood.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Wikipedia: Red-tailed Hawk
[2]  The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition – David Allen Sibley
[3]  Cornell – All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk
[4]  Cornell – All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk – sound
[5]  The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.
[6]  National Geographic: Red-tailed Hawks
[7]  The Raptor Trust: Accipiters
[8]  Cornell – All About Birds: Bald Eagle – sounds