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The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United Statesmarker as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on chickens. It breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaskamarker and northern Canadamarker to as far south as Panamamarker and the West Indiesmarker, and is one of the most common buteos in North America. Red-tailed Hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within its range. There are fourteen recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm (18 to 26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm (43 to 57 in). The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25% heavier than males.

The Harlan's Hawk (B. j. harlani), often considered a separate species, is treated below in the Taxonomy section.

The Red-tailed Hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high arctic. It is legally protected in Canadamarker, Mexicomarker and the United Statesmarker by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails. Falconers are permitted to take only hawks in their first year. Adults, which may be bred, are not permitted to be taken for falconry. Falconers prefer to train first year hawks, which have not been locked into uncooperative adult behaviors.

The Red-tailed Hawk also has significance in Native American culture. Its feathers are considered sacred by some tribes, and are used in religious ceremonies.

Description

Head
Immature, Philadelphia


A male Red-Tailed Hawk may weigh from 690 to 1300 grams (1.5 to 2.9 pounds) and measure 45–56 cm (18 to 22 in), while a female can weigh between 900 and 2000 grams (2 and 4.4 pounds) and measure 48 to 65 cm (19 to 26 in) long; wingspan is about 114 to 133 cm (45 to 52 in). As is the case with many raptors the Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, as females are up to 25% larger than males.

Red-tailed Hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. These color variations are morphs, and are not related to molting.

The western North American population, B. j. calurus, is the most variable subspecies and has three color morphs: light, dark, and intermediate or Rufus. The dark and intermediate morphs constitute 10–20% of the population.

Though the markings and hue vary, the basic appearance of the Red-tailed Hawk is consistent. The underbelly is lighter than the back and a dark brown band across the belly, formed by vertical streaks in feather patterning, is present in most color variations. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and pink below. The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the Red-tailed Hawk are all yellow.

Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish iris. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature Red-tailed Hawk are patterned with numerous darker bars.

Taxonomy

In flight showing the red tail
The Red-Tailed Hawk is a member of the genus Buteo, a group of medium-sized raptors with robust bodies and broad wings. Members of this genus are known as buzzards in Europe, but hawks in North America.

There are at least 14 recognized subspecies of Buteo jamaicensis, which vary in range and in coloration:
  • B. j. jamaicensis, the nominate subspecies, occurs in the northern West Indiesmarker, including Jamaicamarker, Hispaniolamarker, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles but not the Bahamasmarker or Cubamarker. El Yunque National Forestmarker, Puerto Rico holds the highest known density of Red-tailed Hawks anywhere. [45067]
  • B. j. alascensis breeds (probably resident) from southeastern coastal Alaskamarker to the Queen Charlotte Islandsmarker and Vancouver Islandmarker in British Columbiamarker.
  • B. j. borealis breeds from southeast Canada and Mainemarker south through eastern Texasmarker and east to northern Florida. It winters from southern Ontario east to southern Maine and south to the Gulf coast and Florida.
  • B. j. calurus breeds from central interior Alaskamarker, through western Canada south to Baja California. It winters from southwestern British Columbiamarker southwest to Guatemalamarker and northern Nicaraguamarker. Paler individuals of northern Mexico may lack the dark wing marking.
  • B. j. costaricensis is resident from Nicaraguamarker to Panamamarker. This subspecies is dark brown above with cinnamon flanks, wing linings and sides, and some birds have rufous underparts. The chest is much less heavily streaked than in northern migrants (B. j. calurus) to Central America.
  • B. j. fuertesi breeds from northern Chihuahuamarker to southern Texas. It winters in Arizonamarker, New Mexicomarker, and southern Louisianamarker. The belly is unstreaked or only lightly streaked, and the tail is pale.
  • B. j. fumosus Islas Maríasmarker, Mexicomarker
  • B. j. hadropus Mexican Highlands
  • B. j. harlani, Harlan's Hawk, is markedly different from all other Red-tails. In both color morphs, the plumage is blackish and white, lacking warm tones (save the tail). The tail may be reddish, dusky, whitish, or gray and can be longitudinally streaked, mottled, or barred. Shorter primaries result in wingtips that don't reach the tail in perched birds. It breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada and winters from Nebraskamarker and Kansasmarker to Texasmarker and northern Louisianamarker. This population may well be a separate species.
  • B. j. kemsiesi is a dark subspecies resident from Chiapasmarker to Nicaraguamarker. The dark wing marking may not be distinct in paler birds.
  • B. j. kriderii is paler than other Red-tails, especially on the head; the tail may be pinkish or white. In the breeding season, it occurs from southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and extreme western Ontario south to south-central Montana, Wyoming, western Nebraska, and western Minnesota. In winter, it occurs from South Dakota and southern Minnesota south to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
  • B. j. socorroensis Socorro Islandmarker, Mexico
  • B. j. solitudinus Bahamas and Cuba
  • B. j. umbrinus occurs year-round in peninsular Floridamarker north to Tampa Baymarker and the Kissimmee Prairie. It is similar in appearance to calurus


The four island forms, jamaicensis, solitudinus, socorroensis, and fumosus, do not overlap in range with any other subspecies.

Distribution and habitat

A breeding pair near Boston, Massachusetts


The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most widely distributed hawks in the Americas. It breeds from central Alaskamarker, the Yukonmarker, and the Northwest Territoriesmarker east to southern Quebecmarker and the Maritime Provinces of Canadamarker, and south to Floridamarker, the West Indiesmarker, and Central America. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range.

Its preferred habitat is mixed forest and field, with high bluffs or trees that may be used as perch sites. It occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, mountains, foothills of mountains coniferous and deciduous woodlands, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It is second only to the Peregrine Falcon in the use of diverse habitats in North America. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high Arctic.

The Red-tailed Hawk is widespread in North America, partially due to historic settlement patterns, which have benefited it. The clearing of forests in the Northeast created hunting areas, while the preservation of woodlots left nest sites. The planting of trees in the west allowed the Red-tailed Hawk to expand its range by creating nest sites where there had been none. The construction of highways with utility poles alongside treeless medians provided perfect habitat for perch-hunting. The Red-tailed Hawk can also be found in cities. The non-fiction book Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn made Pale Malemarker, a Red-tailed Hawk in New Yorkmarker, the most famous urban Red-tailed Hawk.

Behavior

In flight, this hawk soars with wings in a slight dihedral, flapping as little as possible to conserve energy. Active flight is slow and deliberate, with deep wing beats. In wind, it occasionally hovers on beating wings and remains stationary above the ground. When soaring or flapping its wings, it typically travels from 20 to , but when diving may exceed . When the Red-tailed Hawk walks, its steps are slow and awkward.

The Red-tailed Hawk is generally non-aggressive toward people and toward other birds, unless there are nestlings present. Approaching a Red-tailed Hawk with nestlings will result in attack and possible serious injury, so it is best to give the nest a wide berth. It is commonly harassed by crows, magpies, owls, other hawks, and even songbirds over territorial disputes, though it is generally not injured.

Vocalization

Calling
The cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a two to three second hoarse, rasping scream, described as kree-eee-ar, which begins at a high pitch and slurs downward. This cry is often described as sounding similar to a steam whistle. The Red-tailed Hawk frequently vocalizes while hunting or soaring, but vocalizes loudest in annoyance or anger, in response to a predator or a rival hawk's intrusion into its territory. At close range, it makes a croaking "guh-runk". Young hawks may utter a wailing klee-uk food cry when parents leave the nest.

Sound effect cliché

Because of its robust crispness, a certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a cliché cinematic sound effect. This high, piercing scream is often featured in the background of adventure movies to give a sense of wilderness to the scene. However, the cry is often inaccurately used for the Bald Eagle, whose own vocalizations are quite different and less robust.

Diet

Juvenile eating a vole
Female eating a squirrel
The Red-tailed Hawk is carnivorous, and an opportunistic feeder. Its diet is mainly small mammals, but it also includes birds and reptiles. Prey varies with regional and seasonal availability, but usually centers on rodents, comprising up to 85% of a hawk's diet. Additional prey (listed by descending likelihood of predation) include lagomorphs, shrews, bats, snakes, waterfowl, fish, crustaceans and insects. Prey range in size from beetles to White-tailed Jackrabbits, which are double the weight of most Red-tails. In captivity in winter, an average Red-tail will eat about 135 g (4-5 oz) daily.

The Red-tailed Hawk hunts primarily from an elevated perch site, swooping down from a perch to seize prey, catching birds while flying, or pursuing prey on the ground from a low flight.

The Great Horned Owl occupies a similar ecological niche nocturnally, taking similar prey. Competition may occur between the Red-tailed Hawk and the Great Horned Owl during twilight. Other competitors include other large buteos such as Swainson's Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks as well as the Northern Goshawk, since prey and foraging methods of these species occasionally overlap.Hawks have been observed following American Badgers to capture prey they flush and the two are considered potential competitors. Competition over carcasses may occur with American Crows and several crows working together can displace a hawk. Larger raptors, such as eagles and Ferruginous Hawks, may steal hawk kills.

Reproduction

Male diving after female in courtship
Parent in nest with chicks
The Red-tailed Hawk reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. It is monogamous, mating with the same individual for many years. In general, the Red-tailed Hawk will only take a new mate when its original mate dies. The same nesting territory may be defended by the pair for years. During courtship, the male and female fly in wide circles while uttering shrill cries. The male performs aerial displays, diving steeply, and then climbing again. After repeating this display several times, he sometimes grasps her talons briefly with his own. Courtship flights can last 10 minutes or more. Copulation often follows courtship flight sequences, although copulation frequently occurs in the absence of courtship flights.

In copulation, the female, when perched, tilts forward, allowing the male to land with his feet lodged on her horizontal back. The female twists and moves her tail feathers to one side, while the mounted male twists his cloacal opening around the female's cloaca. Copulation lasts 5 to 10 seconds and during pre-nesting courtship in late winter or early spring can occur numerous times each day.

In the same period, the pair constructs a stick nest in a large tree 4 to 21 m off the ground or on a cliff ledge 35 m (115 ft) or higher above the ground, or may nest on man-made structures. The nest is generally 71 to 97 cm (28 to 38 inches) in diameter and can be up to 90 cm (3 ft) tall. The nest is constructed of twigs, and lined with bark, pine needles, corn cobs, husks, stalks, aspen catkins, or other plant lining matter.

Great Horned Owls compete with the Red-tailed Hawk for nest sites. Each species has been known to kill the young and destroy the eggs of the other, but in general, both species nest in adjacent or confluent territories without conflict. Great Horned Owls are incapable of constructing nests and typically expropriate existing Red-tail nests. Great Horned Owls begin nesting behaviors much earlier than Red-tails, often as early as December. Red-tails are therefore adapted to constructing new nests when a previous year's nest has been overtaken by owls or otherwise lost. New nests are typically within a kilometer or less of the previous nest. Often, a new nest is only a few hundred meters or less from a previous one. Being a large predator, most predation of these hawks occurs with eggs and nestlings, which are taken by owls, corvids and raccoons.

A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid in March or April, depending upon latitude. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. Eggs are laid approximately every other day. The eggs are usually about 60 x 47 mm (2.4 x 1.9 in). They are incubate primarily by female, with the male substituting when the female leaves to hunt or merely stretch her wings. The male brings most food to the female while she incubates. After 28 to 35 days, the eggs hatch over 2 to 4 days; the nestlings are altricial at hatching. The female broods them while the male provides most of the food to the female and the young, which are known as eyasses (pronounced "EYE-ess-ess"). The female feeds the eyasses after tearing the food into small pieces. After 42 to 46 days, the eyasses begin to leave the nest on short flights. The fledging period lasts up to 10 weeks, during which the young learn to fly and hunt.

Relationship with humans

The Red-tailed Hawk has a complex history with humans. The name "chickenhawk" was applied to the Red-tailed Hawk in earlier times, when free-ranging chickens and other domestic fowl were occasionally taken by these birds. First-year Red-tails, usually in late summer or early fall, were the most guilty of such predation. After mid-summer, adults seldom provide food for newly-hunting young Red-tails, and easily-captured, flightless chickens at a farmstead were frequent targets. Today, Red-tails and other hawks are universally protected by state, provincial, and federal bird protection laws.

Use in falconry

The Red-tailed Hawk is a popular bird in falconry, particularly in Americamarker where the sport of falconry is tightly regulated at the federal and state levels. There are fewer than 5,000 falconers in the United States, therefore any effect on the Red-tailed Hawk population, estimated to be about one million in the United States, is statistically insignificant.

The Red-tailed Hawk is adaptable and useful in modern falconry. It is a powerful and sturdy falconry bird best flown at larger ground quarry such as squirrels, rabbits, and jackrabbits. Occasionally, the Red-tailed Hawk may even take a pigeon, crow, or duck.



In the course of a hunt, a falconer using a Red-tailed Hawk most commonly releases the hawk and allows it to perch in a tree or other high vantage point. The falconer, who may be aided by a dog, then attempts to flush prey by stirring up ground cover. A well-trained Red-tailed Hawk will follow the falconer and dog, realizing that their activities produce opportunities to catch game. Once a raptor catches game, it does not bring it back to the falconer. Instead, the falconer must locate the bird and its captured prey, "make in," (carefully approach) and trade the bird its kill in exchange for a piece of offered meat.

Feathers and Native American use

The feathers and other parts of the Red-tailed Hawk are considered sacred to many American indigenous people and, like the feathers of the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle, are sometimes used in religious ceremonies and found adorning the regalia of many Native Americans in the United States; these parts, most especially their distinctive tail feathers, are a popular item in the Native American community.As with the other two species, the feathers and parts of the Red-tailed Hawk are regulated by the eagle feather law, which governs the possession of feathers and parts of migratory birds.

Gallery

Image:Red-tailed Hawk.jpg|Image:Redtailedhawkap.jpg|Juvenile eastern raceImage:Hawk_arguing_over_kill.jpg|Immature (facing camera) and adult western race (calurus) squabbling over a killImage:A_hawk_with_kill.jpg|Immature with a killImage:N216600067_30401220_8411.jpg‎|Adult with killImage:N216600067_30401219_7476.jpg|Hawk with squirrelImage:Red-tailed hawk in SF CA.jpg|Image:Red Tail Hawk.JPG|Immature on typical roadside hunting perch.Image:Red tail.jpg|In Manitoba, CanadaImage:TxRedTail.jpg|In Texas.Image:Red tailed hawk saoring Maryland USA.jpg|In Marylandmarker.Image:Redtailedhawkschertztex.JPG|In Texasmarker.

References

External links




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