Sunday Nature Walk: Soaring with the Red-Tailed Hawk

Whether you reside in the dry grasslands of the Midwest, the northern alpine forests of Alaska, or the quiet maple forests of Easton, Conn. you are bound to see a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). This large raptor is one of America’s most widespread species of wildlife, found in all states in the mainland United States. The highly adaptable red-tailed hawk is one of the top predators of the New England forest.

Red-tailed hawks are very busy at this time of year. Many of the young that hatched this spring or summer are now leaving the nest and beginning to hunt on their own. The parents, however, will continue to feed them until fall, and will react hostilely to other birds of prey who enter their territory.

Red-tailed hawks have few predators, but they often clash with great horned owls, who will readily eat juvenile red-tails if given the opportunity. This is why it is not uncommon for red-tailed hawks and great horned owls to be observed clashing when they discover each other’s presence.

An adult red-tailed hawk leaps from his perch. One of the main jobs of the male red-tailed hawk is protecting the territory against other birds of prey. — Tomas Koeck Photo

Red-tailed hawks can be found in just about any type of habitat, but they prefer open areas and fields. These areas serve best for this species’ style of hunting. Red-tailed hawks will often wait for prey on an open perch, diving and dropping down to catch whatever catches their eye. Red-tailed hawks dine on a wide array of rodents, birds, and even reptiles, including snakes. All of these prey items are most readily available in fields and open land habitats.

While red-tailed hawks can be found year-round, many individuals will migrate south for the winter. The red-tailed hawk is one of the many species that will partake in the annual hawk migration, a massive movement south that sparked birding events and organizations such as the hawk watch led by the National Audubon, and the Hawk Watch International.

Photo One: Red-tailed hawks are named for their often brightly colored red tail which they will boast when they reach adulthood. They can also be gray, black, or even completely white, depending on the region.
Photo Two: A key identification of red-tailed hawks, no matter what age, is a speckling of contrasting feathers that form around the stomach area. Among birders, this is known as the “belly band”.

To find red-tailed hawks, explore some of Easton’s trails through the Aspetuck Land Trust preserves or natural areas throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands.

For more nature photos, fun facts, and environmental entries, you might like to follow my nature photography Instagram, @wild_new_england_ ( https://www.instagram.com/wild_new_england_/ ).

Tomas Koeck
Tomas Koeck

Koeck is a photographer and videographer. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the School of Communication, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University. He has worked on several stories with the non-profit Vision Project and is on the Easton Courier’s news team.  He has published in the Connecticut Audubon Society, TAMRON Optics, ESPN, and the Spectrum. He has also been featured on the prestigious Instagram wildlife photography platforms Elite Owls and Elite Raptors.

He has conducted scientific research for Penn State University on invasive plant regeneration as well as field work with Dr. Kim Steiner of Penn State’s dendrology forest biology division. Koeck is also a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Environmental Studies Award and has published species profiles for the Connecticut Audubon Society.

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