South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Length: 19 - 25 inches Wingspan: 46 - 58 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Variable with age and morph, but tail normally reddish above, whitish below.  Belly-band of streaks on many birds

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensisThe Red-tailed hawk is probably one of the most well-known hawks, due to it's trademark reddish tail and tendency to perch along the sides of roads. Red-tailed Hawks show a wide variation in plumage, especially in the western United States.  "Harlan's Hawk", once considered a separate species, is a very dark morph of the Red-tailed Hawk, with marbled earth and white tones in the tail instead of red.  Another distinguishing field mark of most birds is a "belly band" of dark speckled feathers on the bellow below the breast.  However, very light colored Red-tailed Hawk morphs may largely lack even this characteristics.

Habitat: Open country, woodlands, prairies, cropland, and plains. Found in nearly any type of habitat that provides some open ground with high perches.

Diet: Small mammals, birds, and reptiles.  Occasionally eats insects and carrion. 

Behavior: Hunts by either watching from a perch and swooping down when prey comes within range, or by soaring over open ground.  During courtship, males and females circle together, crying their distinctive cry.

Nesting: March through June.  The nest of a Red-tailed Hawk is usually in a tree, often one of the tallest trees in the general vicinity.  The nest is large structure built of sticks, lined with finer vegetative material.  The female usually lays 2 to 3 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  Upon hatching, the female initially stays with the young while the male leaves the nest to hunt and bring food back.  After a few weeks, both parents leave the nest for periods to hunt.

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map

Song: Red-tailed Hawk call.

Migration: Many birds do migrate south, but some are semi-permanent residents.

Similar Species: Depending on age and morph, can appear similar to Ferruginous Hawk or Rough-legged Hawk.

Conservation Status: Widespread and common, with populations stable or even increasing.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Red-tailed Hawk

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Red-tailed Hawk"

3) - Red-tailed Hawk

Photo Information: August 4th, 2002 -- Near Lake Preston -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Red-tailed Hawk photos.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Red-tailed hawk - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident statewide.  Uncommon winter resident, primarily in the south.  Common migrant throughout the state.