The Red Tailed Hawk of the Pacific Northwest
The Red Tailed Hawk is one of my favorite hawks to watch. The Coast of BC has a very large population of red tailed hawks.
The red tailed hawk is the largest of hawks weighing an average of 1 to 2 kilos and reaching up to 65 cm in length. Its wingspan can reach up to 175 cm long. It has a dark brown crown, cheeks, back, and wings. It has a white neck, chest, and belly, and has heavy brown markings on the lower chest and flanks. Its tail is broad with a distinctive rusty red color and usually has a black bar on the end.
Male and female red tailed hawks look alike although females are usually 1/3 larger than male hawks. Juvenile hawks resemble adult ones except for their tail color which is brown with dark bars. Their tail molts becoming red during their second year.
Red tailed hawk nests are usually found at the top of our tallest old growth trees. They choose such sites because they prefer a clear view of broad areas for protection from predators.
The nests are built of sticks, twigs and are lined with bark strips and their own feathers. Red tailed hawk nests are shallow and wide and are often used by the same hawks for many years. Old damaged nests are still used after being repaired. Both sexes help in the construction of the nest. The female hawk will lay 2 eggs colored white or bluish white with reddish blotches. During incubation the male hawk hunts alone and brings food to the female who stays at the nest.
This hawk’s courtship display is awesome. The display starts with both hawks soaring in circles at great heights. The male then proceeds to dive down in a steep drop then goes up again at a steep angle, repeating this several times before he approaches the female hawk from above to touch or grasp her briefly. When this happens the pair sometimes interlock their talons and they go on a dizzying downward spin, plummeting to treetop levels before separating again.
Evidence suggests that red tailed hawks pair for life. It has been observed that female hawks will defend their mates even outside of breeding season.
The red tailed hawk is an opportunistic feeder with its diet consisting mainly of small rodents. They also like to eat birds, reptiles, insects, and crayfish.