Red-tailed Hawk Flight Sequence

By Dan Weisz

Red-tailed Hawks are a common sight in the Foothills and, as winter approaches, we will be seeing more of these birds as they migrate south to Tucson and southern Arizona for the winter.

I saw this Red-tailed Hawk while birding with friends at a golf course on the far southwest side of Tucson with miles of desert beyond the course.  It had been soaring around the course when it turned and flew directly towards us.  Perhaps it hoped we were going to scare a rabbit out of the brush.

Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks in America.  If you want to see a Red-tailed Hawk, go for a long car ride, anywhere.  The large hawk you see soaring overhead and the broad, bulky hawk you see sitting on a telephone pole is likely to be a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks have a dark band between the wrist and the shoulder at the leading edge of the wing, called their patagial mark.  A ‘belly band’ is usually clearly visible with a streaked ‘belt’ of dark feathers across their belly.   This bird’s eyes are fixed on the ground in search of prey.  Contrary to urban myth, hawks (and owls) do not seek domestic pets (cats and dogs) as prey.  Red-tails may weigh between 2-3 pounds and cannot lift more than their body weight.

As the hawk neared us its attention turned towards the ground ahead of us.  This Red-tailed is a juvenile with light colored eyes and a light, barred tail.  Red-tailed Hawks have extremely variable plumage but all are bulky birds with rounded wings with a patagial mark and belly band that is readily visible.  Red-tailed Hawks are the second largest hawks in America.

Lightly colored Red-tailed Hawks will have white under their chins.  Darker Red-tailed Hawks will have a dark head with no white under the chin.  Red-tailed Hawks are present across the United Stated year-round but you will see many more during the winter months as the birds from Canada and Alaska and colder northern states migrate south for the winter.

Red-tailed Hawks try to conserve energy when soaring.  Flapping their wings is work, not fun, so they take advantage of the wind and thermals to aid in their flight.

and he was on his way……..

One final “cool fact”, quoting the site:  “The Red-tailed Hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.”  NPR ran a short story on this:

Go for a ride out of town today and keep your eyes peeled.  I’ll bet you will spot a Red-tailed Hawk!

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