The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a large Buteo which breeds from western Alaska and northern Canada to Panama and the West Indies. Males are typically smaller than females, generally weighing between 800-1100 grams and measuring 45-56 cm in length. Females typically average between 1100-1300 grams and measure 50-65 cm in length.
This is one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the Chickenhawk. It is the most common North American hawk and the raptor most frequently taken from the wild (and later returned to the wild) for falconry in the United States.
Birds of this species have a dark mark along the leading edge of the underwing, between the body and the wrist (the patagium). Most but not all color variations have a dark band across the belly. In most, the adults’ tails are rusty red above, and juveniles have narrow brown and pale bands. The main western North American population has bands on the adults’ rusty tails as well and has varied plumage, organized into three main color types or morphs.
Immature birds, or birds that are only a few years old, can also readily be identified by having yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3-4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue.
Light-morph birds are mainly brown on the upperparts and very pale brown or buff on the underparts and underwings; they show a belly band.
Rufous-morph birds are darker and redder, with reddish-brown rather than white on the underparts. The belly band may be barely visible.
Dark-morph birds are very dark brown on both upperparts and underparts; they have lighter parts on the underwings.
Almost all of the main eastern North American population are light-morph, with whiter underparts and paler markings than western birds and with solid rust-red tails as adults.
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For more information from the USGS (United States Geological Survey)
on the Red-tailed Hawk.