What Does a Red-tailed Hawk Look Like? [Revealed!]

by Victor
Published: Last Updated on
what does a Red-tailed Hawk look like

The Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is an awe-inspiring bird of prey that commands attention with its majestic presence and striking visual features. As one of North America’s most iconic raptors, the Red-Tailed Hawk possesses a distinct appearance that captures the imagination of bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. In this article, we explore the remarkable physical characteristics that define the captivating beauty of the Red-Tailed Hawk.

Size and Structure:

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a large raptor, measuring between 18-26 inches (46 to 66 centimeters) in length and weighing between 2-4 pounds. They also have a wingspan of 43-56 inches (109 to 142 centimeters), making them one of the larger raptors in North America. The females are generally larger than the males, with some females weighing up to 50% more than their male counterparts.

In terms of shape, the Red-tailed Hawk has broad, rounded wings which they hold in a slight dihedral (V) shape when soaring. Their tail is relatively short and wide, and as its name suggests, it is reddish-brown in color, with a distinctive dark band at the end.

Plumage and Coloration:

One of the most striking features of the Red-Tailed Hawk is its rich and diverse plumage. The Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage is highly variable, with individuals displaying a range of different colors and patterns. However, there are a few key features that are common across all individuals.

Adult Red-tailed Hawks have a brown back and wings, with a pale underside that is streaked with brown. They also have a pale throat and a dark, comma-shaped mark on their cheek that is referred to as a malar stripe. The most distinctive feature of the Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage, however, is its namesake red tail. This tail is often visible when the bird is in flight, and it helps to distinguish the Red-tailed Hawk from other raptors.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks have a different plumage than adults, which can make them harder to identify. They are generally more mottled and streaked than adults, with a pale head and a dark belly band. Their tail is also brown with several narrow dark bands, which can make it harder to distinguish from other species of hawk.

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The name “Red-Tailed Hawk” stems from the distinct reddish-brown coloration of its tail feathers, which become particularly prominent during flight. This vibrant reddish hue sets them apart from other raptor species and serves as a defining feature of their visual identity.

Head and Facial Features:

The Red-Tailed Hawk boasts a remarkable facial appearance, characterized by a distinctive hooked beak and intense eyes. Their beak is sharp, curved, and designed for tearing apart prey. The eyes are large and captivating, typically displaying a dark brown coloration. These keen eyesight aids in spotting prey from great distances while soaring high in the sky.

The facial region of the Red-Tailed Hawk showcases a pale, almost white, patch just above the beak, which is known as the “superciliary stripe” or “eyebrow.” This feature helps distinguish the Red-Tailed Hawk from other raptor species that may share similar plumage colors.

Variation and Sexual Dimorphism:

While the Red-Tailed Hawk exhibits some regional variation in plumage colors, the overall appearance remains consistent across its range. However, it is worth noting that there can be variations in individuals, especially among subspecies, resulting in differences in shades and patterns.

Sexual dimorphism is present in Red-Tailed Hawks, with females generally being larger and heavier than males. This difference in size is more subtle compared to other raptor species. Additionally, females may have a broader “belly band” or dark streaks across the lower part of their belly.

Habitat and Range:

Red-tailed Hawks are found throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada down to Mexico. They are highly adaptable birds and can be found in a wide range of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, forests, and even urban areas. They prefer open habitats where they can hunt for prey, such as rodents, rabbits, and snakes.


Red-tailed Hawks are solitary birds and are usually seen alone or in pairs. They are territorial and will defend their hunting grounds against other birds of prey. When hunting, they typically soar high above the ground, scanning the area below for potential prey. Once they spot something, they will swoop down at incredible speeds to catch it.

Red-tailed Hawks are also known for their impressive courtship displays, which involve aerial acrobatics and impressive vocalizations. During these displays, a pair of hawks will soar high into the sky together before performing a series of dives and rolls.


Overall, the Red-tailed Hawk is an impressive bird of prey that is easily recognizable due to its distinctive plumage. It is a powerful hunter that is capable of taking down prey much larger than itself, and it is an important part of many ecosystems throughout North America. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these magnificent birds in the wild, take a moment to appreciate its beauty and grace as it soars through the sky.

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