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Red-tailed Hawk
Re-tailed Hawk Red-tailed Hawk

Above © Eli Hosen; Pochantas State Park, Chesterfield, VA; July 2009
Lower center © Eli Hosen; Pochantas State Park, Chesterfield, VA; July 2009
Lower left © Kim Hosen, Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area, Nokesville, Virginia

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Red-tailed hawks are one of the most commonly observed birds of prey in Northern Virginia. Found throughout North America, these hawks have stout bodies, broad wings and a uniformly reddish tail.

They generally hunt from a perch, scanning the surrounding area for prey before gliding down with legs thrust forward to seize a small mammal, snake or bird. Small rodents are devoured whole. They also hunt snakes, grabbing them near mid-body and quickly biting the neck until the snake is dead, and other birds, which they behead and pluck before eating.

Red-tailed hawks are territorial and aggressive during breeding season. They occupy territories that are defined by physical features, such as streams, forest edges, roads, etc.

Both the male and female participate in the selection of a nesting site, located in a tree that is often taller that other trees in the area. They may repair an old nest or build a new one from the twigs of deciduous trees, lining the cup with strips of bark, green conifer, catkins, etc.

Six species of hawks nest in Virginia: red-tailed, red-shouldered, broad-winged, Cooper's, sharp-shinned, and the Northern harrier. Red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks are known as buteo hawks, which have long, broad wings, rounded, fan-like tails and typically soar in high circles.