Red Tailed Hawk Circles in Autumn Blue Sky

While rambling through Riverwood Conservancy earlier this week, I stood watching a Red Tailed Hawk on the hunt. He mentally divided the large park into quadrants, then circled over each, tracing compact circles against the autumn blue sky.

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What Do Red-Tailed Hawks Eat?

According to AllAboutBirds Red Tailed Hawks prefer to eat mammals. Favourites include mice, voles, rats and rabbits. From what I’ve read online, they happily munch on grey squirrels. (Those are the squirrels that are often black in southern Ontario.)

Photo of Red Squirrel Wall on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Better be careful!

They can also eat large birds, snakes and carrion.

If you’re like me, you’ll usually see Red Tails perched beside the road when you are out for a drive. They like to watch for the movement of mice, rabbits and squirrels on the ground from where they sit on a bare tree branch, light or telephone pole.

Photo of Chipmunk Roots On NaturalCrooksDotCom

This Chip was smart enough to stay half hidden.

The will soar, too, though. They tend to fly in circles. The one I was watching at Riverwood would circle an area two or three times before moving to check another spot. Its circles were fairly low about 10 feet above the tree tops or in meadows 30 feet above the ground.

Do Red-Tailed Hawks Migrate?

Some do.

According to AllAboutBirds, some birds move south in the fall and winter. They have to then find an area to hunt in where the year-round resident birds will not drive them away.

Here are some sample numbers from places where hawks and eagles congregate on migration before shifting en masse further south. Many more hawks migrate through other geographical funnels. This is just to give you an idea that the numbers are large:

  • Detroit River Hawk Watch, Brownston, Michigan, USA
    By November 15, 2013, they had counted 3269 Red Tailed Hawks moving past.
  • Holiday Beach Conservation Area, Amherstburg, Ontario
    By November 15, 2013, they had counted 3636 Red tails.
  • Hawk Cliff Hawkwatch, Port Stanley, Ontario
    By November 11, 2013 they had counted 3797 Red Tailed Hawks.

Photo of Red Tailed Hawk 3 on NaturalCrooksDotCom


If you’re curious, the high numbers for those 3 spots included

  • 59,371 Broad Winged Hawks and 21, 850 Turkey Vultures at Hawk Cliff.
  • 48,629 BWH and 41669 TVs at Holiday Beach.
  • 49629 BWH and 69638 TVs at Detroit River.

As you can see, although some Red Tailed Hawks migrate, they don’t move in as large numbers as the Broad Winged Hawks or Turkey Vultures.

A Quick Way to Identify a Soaring Red Tail Hawk

First, don’t look only for a red tail. While adults have a tail which is rusty red on the top, young birds don’t. From above the tail of juveniles shows many dark horizontal bands.

The most noticeable mark from below is a very thin line of black feathers along the front edge of the wings that starts near the body and only goes about half way along the wing to where the joint is.

Photo of Red Tailed Hawk 2 on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Most Ontario birds will also have another thin black line of feathers along the entire back or bottom edge of the wing.

Size is another good feature. Red Tailed Hawks are very large.

Happy Hawking

I hope you see some of these lovely birds when you’re out and about. Anything that eats rats is a friend to me!

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Have you ever counted Red Tailed Hawks along the highway while making a long drive? What’s the highest count you’ve reached? Please share your views with a comment.

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