The red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk have their own special status

Red-tailed hawks are many people’s favorite birds and are easily seen along our roads and even along highways. When perched, they can often be seen from a long distance if they are claiming territory by showing off their white bellies.

The red-tailed hawk is a beautiful bird soaring in the air with wide wings and a tail that circles above its head in easy view of the observer. When away, they may display a flash of red tail for which they are named, and when claiming a territory and during courtship, their long, raspy shriek will mark their species. They are a bold and powerful hawk that has done well over many years of dangerous living in the modern world.

Although both the red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk nest at our sanctuary in the West Midlands, each has its own niche. Red-tailed hawks use a more open area to hunt and usually nest on the edge of a forest, rather than deep in the woods as the red-shouldered hawk does. Their prey species overlap, but the red-shouldered hawk consumes many frogs, snakes, and other herbivorous creatures as well as mice, while the red-tailed hawk prefers small mammals. However, they can fight on the ground.

We recently witnessed a red-tailed hawk stalking a red-shouldered hawk in the woodland area at the edge of the wetlands. The red-tailed hawk is slightly larger, stronger and more aggressive, and of course was able to chase the other hawk out of the area. But the red-shouldered hawk is certainly more capable in woodland areas, more agile in flight, and will resume nesting in the vicinity.

If you’re lucky, you might get a chance to observe courting red-tailed hawks. We’ve seen many styles of display, but the most elegant flight is when it rolls through the air, swoops near the ground on a diving screen, and then soars on open wings to the top of the flight path to repeat the dance again.

This pattern is often done in the sky in spirals four or five feet in diameter. From the side, they seem to weave up and down in a scallop pattern, which is indeed what they do sometimes. But they also move in a graceful spiral, dancing in the air. Occasionally, red-tailed hawks will shadow each other, imitating the movements of the first to fly, like a graceful couple in a ballet.

In the fall and winter, you may have noticed red-tailed hawks that usually perch along the roads. They often perch on their own, but as spring approaches, you may see a second hawk perching not far away. As we approach nesting season, the two will grow closer together and soon end up side by side. This does not last long. In early spring, the female will have shifted her time to be in the nest, while the male will frolic in her, bringing her a variety of food to keep her satisfied. Again, you’ll only see one bird along the way.

Hawks often use the same nest year after year, adding layers to the nest which is usually two and a half to three feet in diameter. Joe has been observing a red-tailed hawk’s nest where the male has very carefully arranged the nest he has used for many years, with fresh branches entwined around the edges and soft nesting material in the nest cup, perfectly positioned in preparation for the call to his damsel. Then the female arrived for inspection. In a flurry of movement, the twigs are discarded, the soft nesting material is rearranged, and the female brings in new nesting material. Apparently, the nest wasn’t quite up to her standards.

The female red-tail usually contains one or two eggs, which hatch in about a month and grow to approximately adult size only six weeks after hatching. When young birds first leave the nest, they will often have white down feathers on their heads that will not molt for another week or so, leading some observers to believe this is a young bald eagle. Their eyes become yellow for the first few years, gradually becoming a darker color until they are a very dark brown by six years of age.

These youngsters will not have a red tail until they are at least a year or two old. Brown-on-brown camouflage markings serve two purposes. First, it is typical of the markings of many young hawks, which helps protect them from attacks by other species of adult hawks. Second, these markings allow them to hide easily because they blend in with tree bark or tree trunks.

In contrast, adult hawks use their white bellies and bright red tails as a territorial display, signaling to other hawks to stay off their territory. But even adult hawks can blend in when they want to by turning their backs on the world while perching on a tree stump in the shade.

Young red-tailed hawks will follow their parents in the fall. The young male usually follows the adult male, and the young female follows the adult female. This is important in learning the system, because each species of falcon has its own hunting style. The male, who is smaller and more agile, hunts quickly and spends more time in the air, while the female watches carefully from the roost and is able to catch larger prey.

In the fall, many red-tailed hawks turn south for the winter, traveling as far as Texas. Some remain in the original area, and others may travel south of the snow line. They spread out to make the best use of the land available for hunting.

During the years that Barb was teaching at the Coleman School, she was often able to observe a red-tailed hawk stalking open fields of moors as she drove past farms at the crack of dawn. This hawk hunted in a grid pattern, about 20 feet off the ground, sweeping back and forth along the field looking for mice and other small creatures.

As is common with many hawks, most of his hunting took place in the early morning or towards evening. And after it has devoured the prey, it will return to a familiar perch for the rest of the day (or night). This perching routine has led some to believe that hawks hunt from this perch, as they are often seen near busy roads and highways. In fact, they may seize the opportunity to grab a mouse in their sharp claws when easy prey becomes available, but the standard hunting method is usually a low-level flight over fields in the early morning or evening hours.

Red-tailed hawks are a favorite of many naturalists and bird watchers. This may be because they are easy to see. The Highway Hawk is conspicuous when it fluffs its white belly in a territorial display, and you can pick it out from a quarter of a mile away. In the sky, it was remarkable soaring and circling, its pink-red tail showing through the white of the underside of its tail feathers. Up close, it’s stunningly beautiful with wide wings and a bold red tail. From him we learn that favorite birds or animals emanate from familiarity; They need to be seen and recognized in order to take care of people.

For this reason, we ask that you spend some time at your favorite outdoor location; Learn about birds and animals and enjoy them. Keep a journal, take pictures, listen to their songs and calls, and draw what you see. And learn what these animals need to remain a part of our future. According to Cornell University, North America has lost nearly a third of its bird population since 1970. It’s time to take care that we don’t lose more.

Wildlife Recovery Association is a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to education, rehabilitation, research to benefit wildlife, and conservation management to protect rare and sensitive species. To donate to help these amazing animals, visit or write to Wildlife Recovery Association, 531 S. Coleman Road, Shepherd, MI 48883.

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