Summary: The red-tailed hawk is most often seen riding the termal winds searching for prey. The red-tailed hawk is a prodigious hunter of rodents.
Perhaps you will first see this hawk winging lazily over the waters of a Louisiana Bayou or in a tree overlooking New York City's East River in Astoria Park, daring one of the Norway rats to bare his ugly head. The red-tailed hawk is the Che Guevara of hawks; always ready for guerrilla action; un-killable and not always welcome.
In a Fifth Avenue apartment house in Manhattan, a famous bird named Pale Male and his mate, Lola, have held celebrity status for the past twenty years. When the building tried to remove the intrepid pair, the screams from their fans were much worse than those of the birds.
Red-tailed hawks have been spotted cockily nesting in the metal continents of New York's 1964 World's Fair signature Unisphere landmark, and the six color variations of the mature birds are widely spread throughout the United States. Red-tailed hawks are classified as a œsometimes migrant and those who settle in to the warmer areas of the Southeast often feel no need to budge at all.
The Red-tailed is a massive bird. At a length of twenty-two inches and a fifty inch wingspan, it commands the air. The most easily-spotted field mark on this hawk is a pinkish, not red, fantail. Unlike other hawks, the red-tailed fans its tail like a deck of aces when it flies. No abrupt, sharp edges there. It combines a feminine grace with a well-muscled body. Additional indicators include a dark bar across the shoulders and a streaked belly-band.
This bird rides the thermals with ease. In fact, it likes to take the river route. Over its migratory path along the North Atlantic flyway it leisurely wings down the Hudson River in massive numbers during its bi-annual spring and Fall travels. It has been known to figure prevailing winds into its wanderings. It can be spotted by sophisticated birders most easily when winds are right and it knows the secrets of using the updrafts produced by hot city roofs and pavements.
This is the favorite bird of those who truly hate rats. The majestic red-tailed hawk has been burdened with the unfair nickname, œchicken hawk and been hunted to near extinction because of it, but where it really excels is clearing a city of its rats. Chipmunks and squirrels are also known to ascend the trees in the beak of a hungry hawk rather than under their own power. For those who have never had the experience, the sudden appearance of a red-tailed flying inches from the ground to scoop up its prey is an unforgettable sight. When all else fails, this bird may add reptiles, other small birds and even road kill to its diet.
Although the bird handily survived the onslaught of DDT that killed so many other raptors in past decades, it is increasingly challenged by loss of habitat. Although tough, and adaptable, it would still prefer woods and trees to Manhattan apartment houses.