The red-tailed hawk is a year-round resident and can be seen soaring high over fields, looking for lunch at your bird feeder, or perched on a stream-side tree eyeing an injured duck. It is our most commonly seen hawk.
The adults of this large hawk have bright rusty-red tail feathers and white underparts. They have brown backs and streaked breasts, though colours and patterns can be highly variable. Their broad wings are common to all the related “buteos”, including rough-legged and broad-winged hawks. They are easy hawks to identify, since they soar high in the open, have a distinct tail colour, and frequently call with a loud, high scream.
Hawks often have a bad reputation in farming communities. While they are indeed predators, they eat a great deal of rodents and today they are more commonly recognized as birds that benefit agriculture. Red-tailed hawks generally nest in the tops of large trees with forks, such as yellow birch or red maple, so it is critical that we keep some trees around for this reason alone. The preferred nesting is a large block of uncut hardwood or mixed-wood forests. If you do find a nest, which is a large structure made up of sticks and lined with bark and greenery, please make sure to leave it undisturbed during the nesting season, which can run from March to mid-June. The nests are often reused, either by the red-tail or by other hawks or great horned owls.