What Kind of Hawk is That?

Red tailed Hawk  B184683 1024x766 What Kind of Hawk is That?

Red-tailed Hawk overhead

Like many peo­ple, I often become lost in the numer­ous clas­si­fi­ca­tions of hawks. With three Accip­iters and six Buteos, all with mul­ti­ple sea­sonal and regional dif­fer­ences in their feath­ered coats, it is no won­der. How­ever, I may be able to help you iden­tify what is arguably the most preva­lent and acces­si­ble hawk in the United States, the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red tailed Hawk  B153564 225x300 What Kind of Hawk is That?There are three ways to tell if the Hawk you spot is a Red-tail.

(No, you can’t always tell by the tail as some are very red­dish, oth­ers brown­ish.) Here’s how to tell:

1. From under­neath, by the darker (or lighter in some cases) pata­gial bars on the underwing’s lead­ing edges. (See above.)

2. By the pale, unmarked shield-like breast­plate. (At left.)

3. By the haunt­ing tones of their cries, shrill cries that, unlike other hawks, trail off to stillness.

Red-tailed Hawk Calls

Red-tailed Hawk, Imma­ture

One day last autumn, I was over at Griz­zly Island in Solano County pho­tograph­ing three Red-tails fly­ing in and out of a small grove of trees when they began call­ing back and forth, the sounds grip­ping me with their wild beauty, hit­ting me with an urge move to where I could hear their haunt­ing calls every day.

Red tailed Hawk  B153590 2 300x225 What Kind of Hawk is That?Red-tailed Hawks live in a wide range of habi­tats and alti­tudes, includ­ing dry deserts, grass­lands,  forests,  farm­land, urban and  sub­ur­ban areas.

A well-known red-tail, Pale Male and one or another of his mates, have nested  and raised chicks for many years high atop a Man­hat­tan  sky­scraper, a good hunt­ing perch.

Cen­tral Park is home to many res­i­dent Red-tails. Twelve years ago a pair, known as Mama and Papa moved to Queens and now there are 24 pairs of Red-tails that perch on sky­scrap­ers, antenna, tall bridges as they scour the land­scape for rodents.

So now, when you see a Hawk on a pole you can tell your friends, “That’s a Red-tailed Hawk,” or, “I can’t make out what it is but it’s not a Red-tail.” And your grand­kids will think you are soooo smart!

Red tailed Hawk  10478822 300x224 What Kind of Hawk is That?

Red tailed Hawk  B2352443 300x225 What Kind of Hawk is That?Look for Hawks on top of tele­phone poles by plowed fields, atop cliffs or in tree tops where they patiently watch for prey.

Good places to watch hawks are the 1000 hawk migra­tion sites across North Amer­ica. Every spring and fall the Hawk Migra­tion Asso­ci­a­tion of North Amer­ica pub­lishes lists of all reported data from the mem­ber sites.

The Red-tail on the left brings home a large field mouse for dinner.

Once in a while, at the right time of the year, you may see a red-tailed Hawk with a red tail, like this one below.

Red tailed Hawk  A164675 225x300 What Kind of Hawk is That?

You can learn lots more about Hawks and Hawk­ing at the Golden Gate Rap­tor Obser­va­tory http://www.ggro.org/

The Hawk Migra­tion Asso­ci­a­tion of North Amer­ica http://www.hmana.org/

Rec­om­mended read­ing:
A Pho­to­graphic Guide to North Amer­i­can Rap­tors, Wheeler & Clark;
Hawks of North Amer­ica 2nd Ed.,
Clark & Wheeler;
Hawks from Every Angle,
Rap­tors of the World,
Ferguson-Lees & Christie

Your com­ments & ques­tions much appreciated

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4 Responses to What Kind of Hawk is That?

  1. Susan Ivancic says:

    The Sil­ver Express started arriv­ing after my recent retire­ment. Your col­umn has added to my enjoy­ment of bird­ing and the abil­ity of iden­ti­fy­ing hawks in the area. Recently, after a shop­ping trip to Costco in Novato, we spot­ted two red shoul­dered hawks sit­ting on the light posts over the on ramps. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but after read­ing your recent col­umn I under­stood why they were there. Your pho­tog­ra­phy of these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures is phe­nom­e­nal. I look for­ward to receiv­ing your weekly bird pic­tures. Thank you!

  2. Phillipa Lion says:

    One of the most star­tling things about your pic­tures, Richard, is the lit­eral cap­tur­ing of these birds so that we can see them close up. The frus­trat­ing thing about birds is that they are so hard to see…they’re always mov­ing, fly­ing, hid­den, or too far away. You bring them home to us and I thank you for this gift.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Phillipa,
      Get­ting close enough is always a prob­lem, being unob­tru­sive helps, learn­ing their habits helps too. But I am still frus­trated at times.
      I have added your name to my weekly bird email list.

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