Red–tailed Hawk
a Buteo

As its name suggests, the tail of the Red–tailed Hawk is indeed red—nearly a brick red. However, being on the upper (dorsal) surface of the tail, the red is not easily seen when the bird is flying overhead (it is at most a rim of pink when seen from below). And even when the bird is perched, the red tail is often covered by the wings.

The Red-tailed Hawk is most often seen in in the vicinity of clearings, either perched on a tree with a commanding view, or soaring overhead. Although the similarly–sized raven is seen in the same venues, the two birds are easily distinguished: the raven is black, perches diagonally and has a long bulbous bill; the hawk is mottled brown and cream, perches upright, and has a short, hooked bill.

There are many different subspecies of Red–tailed Hawks in North America, the local one being the Western (Buteo jamaicensis calurus). However, the Western, itself, has a remarkable range of plumages. These morphs or phases range from the fairly common light, through the intermediate (or rufous), to the less common dark. Unlike variations which result from molts (such as presented by the Bald Eagle) these morphs persist across molts. Indeed, various morphs might appear within a single brood. Adding to this variety is a variable number of dark bands on the tail.

Another buteo reported infrequently around the region is the the Rough–legged Hawk; I have yet to see it.

red-tailed hawkThe Red–tailed Hawk is named for the red feathers on the upper (dorsal) surface of its tail. This is a feature which is hard to see unless the hawk is perching, although, even then, the wing tips sometimes hide it. The number of dark bands on the tail is variable; this bird has only one. Also visible in this picture is a motley white V on the back.

red-tailed hawkAs with the bird, above, this hawk shows its red tail, but one with three dark bands.

red-tailed hawkFrom the front (ventral, or underside), the only red seen on the tail is a thin pink edging.

red-tailed hawkFor the majority of Western Red–tailed Hawks, the underside (front, ventral) side is much lighter than the backside (top, dorsal)—albeit with a some darker vertical streaks across the belly. A characteristic of adult light morph Red–tailed Hawks, such as this, is the light–coloured arcs above the eyes.

This bird almost looks as if it were wearing an ermine cloak.

red-tailed hawkThe plumage of Western Red–tailed Hawks can be quite variable, ranging from dark, through intermediate (rufous) to light. The dark morphs are not very common. I suspect that this bird would be labeled as an intermediate.

red-tailed hawkThis hawk is clearly a light morph.

red-tailed hawkThe two hawks in this April picture were travelling together and were likely a breeding pair. If so, the female is probably the one on the right (females are larger). It is interesting that the two birds are not the same morph. These same two birds are seen below in more detailed shots.

Red-tailed Hawks sometimes hunt as a pair and will perch on opposite sides of the same tree so as to corner tree squirrels. However, this pair caught no squirrels; they were quickly driven off by a ravin.

red-tailed hawkThe light morph (probably a male) hawk in the Douglas–fir, above.

red-tailed hawkThe intermediate morph female hawk in the Douglas–fir, above.

red-tailed hawkThe best way to see the pattern on the underside of the wings is to watch a hawk overhead in flight. The good news is that the hawk is often seen this way; the bad news is that the hawk is often far too high, and strongly backlit, to show much detail. As a result, this view, showing considerable detail of the underside of the light morph of the Red-tailed Hawk is satisfying.

red-tailed hawkThe back lighting does not allow determine of this as either a dark or intermediate morph, but as the same bird was seen in a tree earlier, it is known to be an intermediate.

red-tailed hawkThe light morph Red–tailed Hawk seen here, is easily distinguished from the darker one to the left.

red-tailed hawkThe Red–tailed Hawk (in the Douglas–fir, above) is preening its tail feathers.

red-tailed hawkA Red–tailed Hawk incubating on a nest.

red-tailed hawkTwo Stellar’s Jays harass a Red–tailed Hawk. They drove it from its perch.

red-tailed hawkA composite of two pictures shows a Red–tailed Hawk approaching a tree.

red-tailed hawkAn intermediate (or rufous) morph Red–tailed Hawk sits on a tree branch and then flies off.     ⇒

red-tailed hawkAn intermediate (or rufous) morph Red–tailed Hawk sits on a tree branch and then flies off.     ⇒

red-tailed hawkFeather detail is clearly visible on this Red–tailed Hawk as if flies by.

Information from Wikipedia: Red-tailed Hawk.

Fraser tartan