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Red-tailed Hawk - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Buteo Jamaicensis)
Photo © by gene
Illinois, USA, 28 February 2004
Buteo jamaicensis


Photo © by Kadawe
New England, 29 August 2018

Adult: Length 48cm (19in). Wingspan 125cm (49in).
A large, stocky hawk with a whitish breast with dark band, usually rusty tail, and dark leading edge on wing (patagial mark -- seen during flight).

This species is quite variable in colour, especially in the western U.S., where blackish individuals occur; these often retain a rusty or reddish tail. One of the most diagnostic field marks is the "cumberbund"; an area on the middle breast that is usually streaked darker than the rest of the underbody.
Immature: Duller, more streaked, and light brown tail with some dark barring.


Krider's Hawk (subspecies krideri) is a pink-tailed type from the great plains.

Similar Species

Immature bird showing the first red tail feather molting in
Photo © by gophish
Waterford, New York, USA, 11 January 2010
  • Swainson's Hawk has darker chest, less stocky build, and narrower, more pointed wings. However, Harlan's Hawk, harlani, a very dark morph easily confused with the Swainson's Hawk.


Year-round over most of the U.S. and Mexico; summers northward throughout the Canadian Provinces and inland Alaska.



There are 14 subspecies[1]:

Two additional subspecies: suttoni, and lucasanus are not recognised by all authorities[2].

Harlan's Hawk (subspecies harlani) has in the past been considered a separate species, and proposals have been put forward to adopt that treatment again.


Kriders – Buteo jamaicensis kriderii
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Chambers County, Texas, USA, 1 February 2021

The most common hawk on the North America continent, B. Jamaicensis frequents woodland edges, soars above plains, and is often seen perched on utility poles where natural perches are not available.



Often "still hunts" or "kites" by hanging motionless in mid-air.


Soars or perches, looking for a wide variety of food; small to medium mammals, lizards, frogs, worms, insects, bats, and small birds.


Breast & Belly View
Photo © by Victor Vector
Mojave Narrow Regional Park, California, USA, 30 April 2021

Monogamous. They construct a stick nest in trees or cliffs. Clutch of two or three whitish eggs marked indistinctly marked with darker blotches combined with fine speckling.


Common call is a 2–3 second hoarse scream that rises gradually then descends near the end.


Subspecies harlani
Melanistic with some leucism
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Marlin, Falls County, Texas, USA, 4 February 2019

Variable: sedentary from southern USA to south edge of range in Central America and Caribbean; migratory in Northern part of range.

Conservation Status

Photo © by bailiff1
Bessemer, Alabama, USA, 16 November 2015

Common and plentiful, some decline due to habitat loss, although it adapts relatively easily to new environments, even urban. Many are still shot illegally for amusement.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Lepage D. (2021) [Avibase - https://avibase.ca/536A5157 ]. Retrieved 9 February 2021
  3. Thread in the taxonomy forum discussing Harlan's Hawk
  4. White, C.M., Boesman, P. & Marks, J.S. (2019). Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53135 on 25 November 2019).
  5. Global Raptor Information Network. 2019. Species account: Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 25 Nov. 2019
  6. Clark, W. S. 2018. Taxonomic status of Harlan’s Hawk Buteo jamaicensis harlani (Aves: Accipitriformes). Zootaxa 4425 (2): 223–242. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4425.2.2
  7. Liguori, J., and B. L. Sullivan. 2010. Comparison of Harlan’s Hawks with western and eastern Red-tailed Hawks. Birding 42:30-37.
  8. Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane (2020). Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rethaw.01

Recommended Citation

External Links

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