Red-Tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

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Photo of a red-tailed hawk perched
The red-tailed hawk is a common permanent resident in Missouri.
Family

Accipitridae (hawks and eagles) in the order Falconiformes

Description

A large hawk, brown above and white below, with a brown-streaked band on the belly. Adults have a rust-red tail with a narrow black band near the end. In flight the front edges of the wings are dark, contrasting with the lighter wing linings. In winter, several other color morphs of this species can also be seen in Missouri, ranging from almost entirely dark brown to very pale. Albino birds are also occasionally seen. Immature birds are similar to adults except that the tail is brown with narrow dark bars.

Size

Length: 22 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan: 50 inches. Females are larger than males.

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Photo of a red-tailed hawk soaring
Red-Tailed Hawk Soaring
A key to identifying adult red-tailed hawks in flight is the rufous tail.

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Photo of a red-tailed hawk perched on a branch
Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks are large, commonly seen raptors in Missouri.

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Photo of two red-tailed hawks perched on a utility pole
Red-Tailed Hawks On Utility Pole
Many American commuters enjoy seeing these “highway hawks” on their roadside perches.

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photo of a red tailed hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk

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photo of a red tailed hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk

FG-0107_Redtail_Hawk.mp4

Video of a red-tailed hawk.

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk
Krider's Red-tailed Hawk
Krider's Red-tailed Hawk, Kansas City, MO
Habitat and conservation

Usually observed along highways, perched on a fence post, telephone pole, tree, or hay bale, from which they watch for prey. Usually nest in open woodlands or in trees in a grassland and cropland area. They frequently nest within city limits, especially along larger highways that have grass-covered median strips for foraging. This species, along with all other native birds, is protected by federal and state laws.

Foods

Forages on rabbits, squirrels, snakes, and other small animals either by soaring and diving on prey or by watching from a perch and swooping down on the prey.

image of Red-Tailed Hawk distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common permanent resident and migrant statewide; most abundant during the winter months.

Life cycle

Pairs may stay together for years on the same territory. Nesting is in mid-March (the earliest nesting time of all Missouri hawks). They may build a new nest of sticks and bark or renovate the same nest used the year before. Nests that have been used for years may be 3 or more feet high. The birds usually bring fresh greenery to the nest — sprigs of leaves or pine needles — until the young birds (2 is the usual number) leave the nest. The fresh greens repel parasites and help hide the nestlings.

Human connections

Red-tailed hawks are often used in falconry. Many Native American tribes consider these hawks and their feathers as sacred. Many American commuters enjoy seeing these “highway hawks” on their roadside perches.

Ecosystem connections

Primarily preying on rodents and other small mammals, red-tailed hawks play a vital role in controlling their populations. They and other hawk species will occasionally prey upon small birds, but they take far fewer than the millions of birds domestic and feral cats kill each year.