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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the "Red-Tailed Hawk”

Dec 07, 2016 09:34PM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the “Red-Tailed Hawk"

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the "Red-Tailed Hawk” (Buteo jamaicensis), a bird of prey, and one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the “chickenhawk”, though it rarely preys on chickens. It is in the family of hawks and eagles. Widespread and common, it apparently has increased in some areas since the 1960s, and its numbers are now stable or still increasing. In several regions of North America, Red-tailed Hawks are adapting to nesting 

in cities. This is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America, bulky and broad-winged, designed for effortless soaring. An inhabitant of open country, it is commonly seen perched on roadside poles or sailing over fields and woods. Although adults usually can be recognized by their trademark reddish-brown tail, the rest of their plumage can be quite variable, especially west of the Mississippi: Western Red-tails can range from blackish to rufous-brown to nearly white.

They are found in any kind of terrain that provides both some open ground for hunting and some high perches. Habitats may include everything from woodland with scattered clearings to open grassland or desert with a few trees or utility poles.

The red-tailed hawk does most of its hunting by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to capture prey in its talons. They also hunt by flying over fields, watching for prey below. Small prey is carried to their perch, large prey is often partly eaten on ground.

Diet is varied, including small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Diet varies with location and season. Mammals such as voles, rats, rabbits, and ground squirrels are often its major prey; also eating many birds (up to size of pheasant) and reptiles, especially snakes. They sometimes eat bats, frogs, toads, insects, and various other creatures; and they also may feed on carrion.

In courtship, males and females soar in high circles, with shrill cries. Males may fly high and 

then dive repeatedly in spectacular maneuvers; and may catch prey and pass it to the females in flight. Nest site is variable. Usually in a tree, up to 120' above ground. The nest tree is often taller than surrounding trees. They also nest on cliff ledges, among arms of giant cactus, or on artificial structures such as towers or buildings. Their nests (built by both sexes) are a bulky bowl of sticks, lined with finer materials, often with leafy green branches added.

After mating, females lay 2-3, sometimes 4, rarely 1-5, whitish, blotched with brown eggs. Incubation is by both parents in 28-35 days. Females remain with young most of the time during first few weeks. Males bring most of the food, and females tear it into small pieces to feed to the young. After about 4-5 weeks, food is dropped in the nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young leave the nest in about 6-7 weeks after hatching, but are not capable of strong flight for another 2 weeks or more. Fledglings may remain with parents for several more weeks.

This beautiful bird of prey can be commonly seen hunting in our own Tijuana Estuary. Look in high trees and utility poles along the perimeter of the trail next to helicopter field. 

Until next week, happy birding!


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography

Bryan Brillhart


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