8 Interesting Facts about the Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in the New Jersey region. No doubt you’ve seen one perched on a wire or flying over a open field. Spending time at a hawk watch will almost guarantee a good look at a “Tail” flying by.

Here are some of the tidbits of information I’ve been picking up as I continue to read more about the Red-Tailed Hawk,:

  • The fierce, screaming cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is frequently used as a generic raptor sound effect in movies and television shows, even if the bird featured is a bald eagle or other raptor
  • 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.
  • Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks have 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.
  • Although the Red-tailed Hawk’s prey is on average larger (due in part to the scarcity of diurnal squirrels in the Owl’s diet),the Great Horned Owl is an occasional predator of Red-tailed Hawks of any age, while the hawks are not known to predate adult Horned Owls.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Since they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails.
  • 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.

The chart below shows the numbers of Red-Tailed Hawks that have been counted at the Picatinny Peak, Raccoon Ridge, Scott’s Mountain, Sunrise Mountain, and Wildcat Ridge hawk watches in Northwest New Jersey.

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