We often have these beautiful birds of prey at the Airport. They love to snack on pigeons and other tidbits that roam and roost adjacent to the Airport perimeter. I have to admit that these are probably one of my favorite birds. Please check out That's My World where people from all over the world share pictures of their part of the world.
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a medium-sized bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on chickens. It breeds throughout almost all North America from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common buteos in North America. There are fourteen recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm (18 to 26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm (43 to 57 in). The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, as females are about 25% heavier than males.
Red-tailed Hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. These color variations are morphs, and are not related to molting.
The western North American population, B. j. calurus, is the most variable subspecies and has three color morphs: light, dark, and intermediate or Rufus. The dark and intermediate morphs constitute 10–20% of the population.
Though the markings and hue vary, the basic appearance of the Red-tailed Hawk is consistent. The underbelly is lighter than the back and a dark brown band across the belly, formed by vertical streaks in feather patterning, is present in most color variations. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and pink below.The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the Red-tailed Hawk are all yellow.
Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature Red-tailed Hawk are patterned with numerous darker bars.
The Red-tailed Hawk is generally non-aggressive toward people and toward other birds. It is commonly harassed by crows, magpies, owls, other hawks, and even songbirds over territorial disputes, though it is generally not injured. When threatened by a human intruder, a Red-tailed Hawk will generally flee rather than defend its nest.
The cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a two to three second hoarse, rasping scream, described as kree-eee-ar, which begins at a high pitch and slurs downward. This cry is often described as sounding similar to a steam whistle. It frequently vocalizes while hunting or soaring, but vocalizes loudest in annoyance or anger, in response to a predator or a rival hawk's intrusion into its territory. At close range, it makes a croaking "guh-runk". Young hawks may utter a wailing klee-uk food cry when parents leave the nest.
Because of its robust crispness, a certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a cliché cinematic sound effect. This high, piercing scream is often featured in the background of adventure movies to give a sense of wilderness to the scene. However, the cry is often inaccurately used for the Bald Eagle, whose own vocalizations are quite different and less robust.
The Red-tailed Hawk hunts primarily from an elevated perch site, swooping down from a perch to seize prey, catching birds while flying, or pursuing prey on the ground from a low flight.
Prey range in size from beetles to White-tailed Jackrabbits, which are double the weight of most Red-tails. In captivity in winter, an average Red-tail will eat about 135 g (4-5 oz) daily.The Great Horned Owl occupies a similar ecological niche nocturnally, taking similar prey. Competition may occur between the Red-tailed Hawk and the Great Horned Owl during twilight.
The Red-tailed Hawk reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. It is monogamous, mating with the same individual for many years. In general, the Red-tailed Hawk will only take a new mate when its original mate dies. The same nesting territory may be defended by the pair for years. During courtship, the male and female fly in wide circles while uttering shrill cries. The male performs aerial displays, diving steeply, and then climbing again. After repeating this display several times, he sometimes grasps her talons briefly with his own. Courtship flights can last 10 minutes or more. Copulation often follows courtship flight sequences, although copulation frequently occurs in the absence of courtship flights.
In copulation, the female, when perched, tilts forward, allowing the male to land with his feet lodged on her horizontal back. The female twists and moves her tail feathers to one side, while the mounted male twists his cloacal opening around the to the female's cloaca. Copulation lasts 5 to 10 seconds and during pre-nesting courtship in late winter or early spring can occur numerous times each day.
In the same period, the pair constructs a stick nest in a large tree 4 to 21 m off the ground or on a cliff ledge 35 m (115 ft) or higher above the ground, or may nest on man-made structures. The nest is generally 71 to 97 cm (28 to 38 inches) in diameter and can be up to 90 cm (3 ft) tall. The nest is constructed of twigs, and lined with bark, pine needles, corn cobs, husks, stalks, aspen catkins, or other plant lining matter.
Great Horned Owls compete with the Red-tailed Hawk for nest sites. Each species has been known to kill the young and destroy the eggs of the other, but in general, both species nest in adjacent or confluent territories without conflict. Great Horned Owls are incapable of constructing nests and typically expropriate existing Red-tail nests. Great Horned Owls begin nesting behaviors much earlier than Red-tails, often as early as December. Red-tails are therefore adapted to constructing new nests when a previous year's nest has been overtaken by owls or otherwise lost. New nests are typically within a kilometer or less of the previous nest. Often, a new nest is only a few hundred meters or less from a previous one.
A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid in March or April, depending upon latitude. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. Eggs are laid approximately every other day. The eggs are usually about 60 x 47 mm (2.4 x 1.9 in). They are incubated primarily by female, with the male substituting when the female leaves to hunt or merely stretch her wings. The male brings most food to the female while she incubates. After 28 to 35 days, the eggs hatch over 2 to 4 days; the nestlings are altricial at hatching. The female broods them while the male provides most of the food to the female and the young, which are known as eyasses (pronounced "EYE-ess-ess"). The female feeds the eyasses after tearing the food into small pieces. After 42 to 46 days, the eyasses begin to leave the nest on short flights. The fledging period lasts up to 10 weeks, during which the young learn to fly and hunt. (excerpts taken from Wikipedia)