Mojave River Valley Museum
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Family: Accipitridae Order: Falconiformes Class: Aves
DISTRIBUTION, ABUNDANCE, AND SEASONALITY
Common, permanent breeding and winter resident and migrant. Breeds throughout
California, and winters in all areas without heavy snow cover. Found in almost all habitats,
from lowest to highest elevations.
SPECIFIC HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
Feeding: Eats small mammals up to hares in size,
amphibians, and some carrion (Orians and Kuhlman 1956). In winter, largely dependent upon mice, but also
takes medium to fairly large birds on the ground. Catches small birds during migration.
Searches by soaring; also perches and pounces, or pounces on
from low, quartering
flights, sometimes hovering on wind or air currents.
Cover: Feeds in grasslands and grass/shrub stages of most
habitats. Roosts in trees;
sometimes in dense conifer stands.
Reproduction: Usually nests in large trees near openings, in older, mature forests,
especially riparian deciduous habitats. Occasionally nests on cliffs or low ledges. Nests
9-21 m (30-70 ft) above ground in trees, higher on cliffs. Flexible in choice of nest site;
occasionally uses human-made structures, shrubs, cacti. Sometimes nests in isolated trees,
or in small groves in open habitat.
Water: Requirements probably met from food.
Pattern: Highly adaptable; uses grasslands, open brush habitats, and open stands of
deciduous and conifer forests. Also frequents croplands, fields, and pastures.
SPECIES LIFE HISTORY
Activity Patterns: Yearlong, diurnal activity. Most
active feeding occurs in early morning and late afternoon.
Seasonal Movements/Migration: Migrates downslope in winter; in summer and fall, some
individuals move to open areas at higher elevations.
Home Range: Home ranges vary from less than 1 to 10 km˛ (0.3 to 3.8 mi˛), depending on
location, topography, habitat, and prey availability.
Territory: In California, Fitch et al. (1946) calculated that territories varied from 0.3 to 0.8
km˛ (0.1 to 0.3 mi˛). They found 0.8 breeding pairs/km˛ (2/mi˛). Territory defended yearlong.
Reproduction: Courtship begins as early as January. Breeds March through July; peaking
in May and June. Clutch of 2-5 eggs, usually 2-3, laid in March and April. Incubates 28-32
days. Semialtricial young fledge in 40-45 days.
Niche: Adaptable, common, and widespread.
Scrub jays, and other avian and mammalian
predators, take undefended eggs and nestlings (Brown and Amadon 1968). May compete for
food with ferruginous, Swainson's, and rough-legged hawks. Great horned owls commonly
use old nests, and occasionally
do. Nestlings may be killed by blood-sucking
flies (Fitch et al. 1946). Golden eagles may prey on adult.
Brown, L., and D. Amadon. 1968. Eagles, hawks and falcons of the world. 2 Vols. Country
Life Books, London. 945pp.
Call, M. W. 1978. Nesting habits and survey techniques for common western raptors.
U. S. Dep. Inter., Bur. Land Manage., Portland, OR. Tech. Note No. 316. 115pp.
Craighead, J. J., and F. C. Craighead, Jr. 1956. Hawks, owls and wildlife. Stackpole Books,
Harrisburg, PA. 443pp.
Fitch, H. S., R. Swenson, and D. F. Tillotson. 1946. Behavior and food habits of the redtailed
hawk. Condor 48:205-237.
Gates, J. M. 1972. Red-tailed hawk populations and ecology in east-central Wisconsin.
Wilson Bull. 84:421-433.
Jackman, S. M., and J. M. Scott. 1975. Literature review of twenty three selected forest birds
of the Pacific Northwest. U.S. Dep. Agric., For. Serv., Reg. 6, Portland OR. 382pp.
Luttich, S. N., L. B. Keith, and J. D. Stephenson. 1971. Population dynamics of the red-tailed
hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) at Rochester, Alberta. Auk 88:75-87.
Maser, C., B. R. Mate, J. F. Franklin, and C. T. Dyrness. 1981. Natural history of Oregon
coast mammals. U.S. Dep. Agric., Pac. Northwest For. and Range Exper. Sta., Portland.
Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-133. 496pp.
Orians, G. H., and F. Kuhlman. 1956. Red-tailed hawk and horned owl populations in
Wisconsin. Condor 58:371-385.
Wiley, J. W. 1975a. The nesting and reproductive success of red-tailed hawks and redshouldered
hawks in Orange County, California, 1973. Condor 77:133-139.
Wiley, J. W. 1975b. Relationships of nesting hawks with great horned owl. Auk 92:157-159.
With a wingspan of up to 5 feet this conspicuous and
fierce looking bird of prey soars using the slight movement
of feather tips to guide its way within thermal uplifts to search
for victims. A Red-tail with its superb vision will fold its
wings against its body and power dive at speeds of up to 100
miles an hour to catch a variety of
lizards, snakes (including
and every now and again, a
> Red-tailed Hawk Picture Slideshow <
The Red-tailed Hawk is a raptor.
For more information on raptors, click here.
Also see >
In the courtship display a pair of Red-tailed Hawks soars in wide circles at a great
height. The male dives down in a steep drop, then shoots up again at nearly as steep
an angle. He repeats this maneuver several times, then approaches the female from
above. He extends his legs and touches or grasps her briefly. The pair may grab onto
one other and may interlock their talons and spiral toward the ground.
When courting, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks soar in wide circles high above the ground.
The male will dive, then shoot up again. After repaeting this maneuver several times, he will
approach the female from above. He will extend his legs and touch or grasp her briefly. They may grab onto
each other, interlocking their talons and spiraling to the ground.
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The Desert Food Chain *
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