Red-tails are among the most common and widespread raptors (birds of prey) occurring in North America. They can be found in grassland, woodland, mountain, desert and urban habitats. They can frequently be observed perching on telephone poles along highways where they wait to surprise small prey as it crosses the open road. These broad-winged hawks (known as “Buteos”) are built for soaring and consume a wide range of prey that includes live and dead mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Red-tails are large, stocky hawks with females weighing on average just over 2.5 pounds and males slightly smaller at an average of 2.25 pounds. Plumage varies widely, but most commonly features whitish chest with darker head and belly band. Tail feathers are brown during the first year but are replaced by the red feathers that give the species its name in the second year.
Red-tails are migratory. However at lower elevations in more temperate climates, red-tails may remain near their nesting territory year-round. Red-tails nest throughout the Portland Metro region and our natural areas play host to an even larger number of red-tails that migrate in to pass the winter months.
Red-tails generally form permanent bonds with their mates and return to the same nesting territories year after year. They build large stick nests, most commonly in deciduous trees, but will also utilize conifers, cliffs, transmission towers and building ledges. They will lay from 1-4 eggs. Eggs are laid approximately 48 hours apart meaning that in a large clutch there can be as much as six days age difference between the youngest and oldest nestlings. Incubation lasts 28-32 days. The female does the majority of the incubating with the male providing food. After hatching the young spend 44-46 before attempting their first flights.