Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Buteo jamaicensis


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1994. Buteo jamaicensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : BUJA COMMON NAMES : red-tailed hawk red-tail chicken hawk TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the red-tailed hawk is Buteo jamaicensis (Gmelin). It is in the family Accipitridae [1]. Seven recognized subspecies occur in North America and are listed below [38,49]: B. jamaicensis spp. alascensis Grinnell B. jamaicensis ssp. borealis (Gmelin) eastern red-tailed hawk B. jamaicensis ssp. calurus Cassin western red-tailed hawk B. jamaicensis spp. fuertesi Sutton B. jamaicensis spp. harlani (Audubon) Harlin's hawk B. jamaicensis spp. kirderii Hoopes Krider's hawk B. jamaicensis ssp. umbrinus Bangs Florida red-tailed hawk ORDER : Falconiformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Red-tailed hawks breed from central Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories east to southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces and south to Florida, the West Indies, and Central America.  They winter from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range [1,8,13]. Buteo jamaicensis ssp. alascensis breeds (probably resident) from southeastern coastal Alaska (Yakutat Bay) to Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island, British Columbia [49]. Eastern red-tailed hawks breed from southern Ontario, southern Quebec, Maine, and Nova Scotia south through eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma to eastern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida.  They winter from eastern Nebraska, northeastern Iowa, southern Michigan, southern Ontario, central New York, and southern Maine south to the Gulf coast and southern Florida.  Occasional breeding occurs from northern Minnesota to northern New England [49]. Western red-tailed hawks breed from central interior Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan south to Baja California, Sonora, and western New Mexico.  They range east to Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and to northeastern Manitoba, south-central Ontario, central and eastern Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton Island.  Western red-tailed hawks winter from southwestern British Columbia to southern Minnesota south and southwest to Guatemala and northern Nicaragua [49]. Buteo jamaicensis ssp. fuertesi breed from northern Chihuahua to Brewster County, Kerr County, and Corpus Christi in southern Texas south to south-central Nuevo Leon.  They winter in central Sonora, southwestern Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Louisiana [49]. Harlani red-tailed hawks breed from the Valley of the Yukon and the Mount Logan area, Alaska, to northern British Columbia east of the Coast Ranges and southeast to the Red Deer region of Alberta.  They winter from Kansas, southern Missouri, and Arkansas south to Texas and Louisiana [49]. Krider's red-tailed hawks breed from southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and extreme western Ontario south to south-central Montana, Wyoming, western Nebraska, ane western Minnesota. They winter from South Dakota and southern Minnesota south to Arizona, New Mexico, Durango, Zacatecas, Texas and Louisiana [49]. Florida red-tailed hawks are year-round residents in peninsular Florida north to Tampa Bay and the Kissimmee Prairie, formerly to San Mateo and Cedar Keys [49]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White-red-jack pine FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir-spruce FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES27 Redwood FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES31 Shinnery FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES :


BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     1  Northern Pacific Border     2  Cascade Mountains     3  Southern Pacific Border     4  Sierra Mountains     5  Columbia Plateau     6  Upper Basin and Range     7  Lower Basin and Range     8  Northern Rocky Mountains     9  Middle Rocky Mountains    10  Wyoming Basin    11  Southern Rocky Mountains    12  Colorado Plateau    13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont    14  Great Plains    15  Black Hills Uplift    16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    Red-tailed hawks probably occur in most Kuchler Plant Associations SAF COVER TYPES :    Red-tailed hawks probably occur in most SAF Cover Types SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Red-tailed hawks occur in nearly every open to semiopen plant community in North America [8,25].  They avoid tundra and dense forests [1,25].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Age at sexual maturity - Red-tailed hawks are generally sexually mature at 2 years of age [38]. Breeding season - The breeding season generally occurs from late January to September depending on geographic area [16,22,38,46].  Full clutches may be expected as early as February in warmer parts of California and in other states bordering Mexico and/or the Gulf coast.  For most of the contiguous United States, clutches are laid in March.  In the northern states and southern Canada, clutches are laid from March to early May. In interior Alaska clutches are laid from April to late May [38]. Clutch size and incubation - Red-tailed hawks lay two to four eggs, with three most common [16,22,38,46].  Clutch size may vary with prey availability [38].  The eggs are incubated for 28 to 34 days [22,38]. If the first clutch is destroyed, red-tailed hawks may lay a replacement clutch within 3 or 4 weeks [38]. Fledging - Nestlings fledge in 42 to 46 days [16,20,22,38].  Males fledge earlier than females [38].  Fledglings continue to be fed by parents and remain within the nesting territory for 30 days or more after fledging [20]. Migration - Red-tailed hawks migrate as individuals.  Some established breeders (especially in the southern United States) remain on or near their territories all year.  Near Fairbanks, Alaska, a mature red-tailed hawk spent three consecutive winters in the same territory [38]. Spring migration starts in February and March in northern Mexico and the southern United States.  Early arrivals reach the northern states while the ground is still under snow.  Along the Canadian border in the Great Lakes region some red-tailed hawks are still migrating in late May and June [38].  Western red-tailed hawks arrival in Yellowstone National Park in the spring is probably dependent on the appearance of the ground squirrels, which come out of hibernation about the first of April [52]. Fall migration from Canada and the adjoining northern states begins in August and continues through early October.  Eastern red-tailed hawks begin to migrate south from New England and other northern parts of their range early in September [52].  Further south, red-tailed hawks begin migrating from early October to mid-December [38]. Longevity - Red-tailed hawks have been reported to live up to 16 years in the wild and 29 years in captivity [22].  The average longevity for a red-tailed hawk that survives to maturity is 6 to 7 years [38]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Red-tailed hawks occupy a wide variety of open to semiopen habitats. They generally avoid tundra and dense, unbroken woodland [1,9,25,13]. Open to semiopen coniferous, deciduous and mixed woodlands, woodland edges, grasslands, parklands, rangelands, river bottomlands, and agricultural fields with scattered trees are preferred.  Forest clearings, alpine meadows, estuaries, and marshes are also commonly used [6,8,22,34,39].  Hardwood draws surrounded by native prairie are important habitats in the Great Plains [9].  In Wyoming and Montana, red-tailed hawks nested in several habitats, but nests were most numerous in riparian zones.  Upland draws with adjacent grassland or agricultural tracts were also commonly used [51]. Nesting habitat - Red-tailed hawks usually nest in a tall tree in or at the edge of woodlands, or in an isolated tree in an open area [1,9,13]. Red-tailed hawks frequently select the largest and tallest tree available [1,13].  In treeless areas red-tailed hawks nest on rocky cliffs or talus slopes, or in shrubs or cacti [13,28].  In the Sonoran Desert, red-tailed hawks often nest in large saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) with projecting limbs [38].  Red-tailed hawks also nest on artificial nest structures, the crossbars of utility poles, and towers [25,38,44].  They sometimes add to an existing raven, crow (Corvus spp.), gray squirrel (Sciurus spp.), or buteo (Buteo spp.) nest [38]. The nest is generally constructed next to the trunk of a tree in a crotch or fork from 30 to 90 feet (9-27 m) above the ground [13,46]. Where tall trees are unavailable nests may be located almost on the ground.  Red-tailed hawk nests are at most 6 feet (0.9 m) above the ground in paloverde (Cercidium spp.) [38].  Nests are often reused from year to year provided that the nests are not occupied by earlier nesting raptors [20,51].  The mean distance between occupied nests in Wyoming and Montana was 1.5 miles (2.4 km) [51]. Red-tailed hawks nest in a wide variety of tree species [8,43,44,45,51]. In central Missouri, 99 percent of red-tailed hawk nests were in deciduous hardwoods.  Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) was the most frequently selected species (40%).  Other species included white oak (Quercus alba), 32 percent; black oak (Q. velutina), 19.1 percent; shingle oak (Q. imbricaria), 1.9 percent; eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), 1.9 percent; red oak (Q. rubra), 0.9 percent; American elm (Ulmus americana), 0.9 percent; green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), 0.9 percent; shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), 0.9 percent; mockernut hickory (C. tomentosa), 0.9 percent; and eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), 0.9 percent [45]. In Snohomish County, Washington, only black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and red alder (Alnus rubra) were utilized for nesting. No nests were found in conifers [43].  In the highlands of southeastern New York and northern New Jersey, red-tailed hawks built nests in 10 different species of trees, with the majority in oaks (82%) [44].  In Wyoming and Montana, the majority (51%)of red-tailed hawk nests were found in coniferous trees.  Forty-seven percent of the nests were found in deciduous trees and 2 percent were located on cliffs [51].  In British Columbia, coniferous trees (48%; 8 species) were used slightly more that deciduous trees (44%; 4 species).  Black cottonwood (38%), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) (19%), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) (19%) were used most often [8].   Only 13 percent of the red-tailed hawk nests in a study area in Wisconsin were located in closed-canopy woodlots.  Fifty-eight percent of the nests were located in open groves, generally less than 1 acre (0.4 ha) in size.  Twenty-nine percent were located in isolated trees along fencelines and ditchbanks. The majority of the nest trees were on well-drained upland sites [19].  Houston and Bechard [21] documented the increase of nesting red-tailed hawks following the expansion of trees into the prairie regions of Saskatchewan [44]. Foraging habitat - Red-tailed hawks generally forage in open habitats containing lagomorphs, small rodents, and snakes.  During the nesting season red-tailed hawks usually forage within 1.9 miles (3 km) of the nest [25].  They are often observed hunting in clearcuts and non-forested areas [35].  Red-tailed hawks usually search for prey from elevated perches [20,23,38].  Consequently, they commonly occupy areas that provide a relative abundance of potential perching sites [23]. James [23] found that 40 percent or more or the average red-tailed hawk home range contained at least 10 perches per 40 acres (16.2 ha).  Snags are commonly used for perches [12,14,31].  Red-tailed hawks in central Iowa tend to select perches in groves of trees and along woodland edges [53].  Foraging habitat in the Midwest is limited by large expanses of cereal crops [9]. Winter habitat - Winter habitat for red-tailed hawks is generally the same as the nesting habitat, except that high elevation areas are not used [25].  Wintering red-tailed hawks in Illinois avoided plowed fields and showed a preference for high perches in areas with groups of trees or small woodlots [9]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Red-tailed hawk nests are generally built on sites that provide a commanding view of the area and unobstructed access to the nest.  Nests are typically high in a tree that is taller than those surrounding it. Some researchers have found that red-tailed hawk nests are often located well up a slope or on a ridge or hilltop [38,44].  However, Speiser and Bosakowski [44], reported that in the highlands of southeastern New York and northern New Jersey red-tailed hawks most often nested between lower and middle slopes, seldom near the top of a slope and never directly on a ridgetop.  Red-tailed hawks seem to prefer trees with open crowns [38].  Roost trees for raptors are usually large enough to provide safety from any predatory threat from the ground.  They are typically the largest trees in the stand; the crown near the top or the middle portion of the tree is open and have stout lateral limbs with easy access [50].  Red-tailed hawks are probably more efficient predators in open areas than in areas with high vegetative cover. FOOD HABITS : Red-tailed hawks are versatile, opportunistic predators [38].  Prey items of red-tailed hawks are numerous.  Generally, any animal the size of a jackrabbit (Lepus spp.) or smaller, including domestic animals, is potential prey.  Red-tailed hawks primarily eat small mammals but also eat birds, reptiles, and some insects [13,16,20,38].  In Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Michigan, researchers found that mammals accounted for 93 percent, 85 percent, and 40 percent, respectively, of the prey species taken [22]. Some prey items reported to be taken by red-tailed hawks include meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), red-backed voles (Clethrionomys gapperi), short-tail shrews (Blarina brevicauda), deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), chipmunks (Tamias spp.), tree squirrels (Sciurus spp.), ground squirrels (Citellus spp.), pikas (Ochotona princeps), prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.), jackrabbits, cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.), skunks (Mephitis spp. and Spilogale spp.), raccoons (Procyon lotor), woodchucks (Marmota spp.), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), grouse, and various songbirds [5,20,22,30,38]. PREDATORS : Information was not found in the literature regarding predation on red-tailed hawks or their clutches.  However, species that kill other raptors and destroy their clutches probably also kill  red-tailed hawks.  Some raptor predators include great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).  Other potential predators include coyotes (Canis latrans), bobcats (Lynx rufus), skunks, and crows. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Unlike many other raptor species in North America, red-tailed hawk populations have increased over much of their range due to fragmentation of forests into small woodlots and increases in woodland edge [9]. Because of these habitat changes, red-tailed hawks have replaced red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) throughout much of the red-shouldered hawks' former breeding range [41].  To manage a stand for red-tailed hawks, 500 to 1,000 overstory trees per acre (1,235-2,470/ha) with not more than 40 percent of the trees 8 inches (20 cm) d.b.h. is recommended [35].  Clearcutting is often detrimental to the nest site but may be beneficial to local populations of red-tailed hawks by providing foraging habitat [35].  Snags and cull trees should be retained as perch sites for red-tailed hawks [14,31,50]. Additionally, trees that contain nests should be retained whenever possible.  Protecting habitat used by the prey base may also benefit red-tailed hawks [50].  Although red-tailed hawks are tolerant of human activities, construction of home sites degrades the quality of woodlands by reducing habitat for some prey species [9].  In southeastern New York and northern New Jersey, no red-tailed hawk nests were found near high-density suburban housing developments [44].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Fire directly reduces red-tailed hawk reproductive success if the fire crowns in occupied nest trees [27].  Fires that kill or otherwise alter unoccupied nest trees may disrupt reproduction if acceptable nest trees are scarce.  Red-tailed hawks are reported to be attracted to fire and smoke [15].  They have been reported feeding on grasshoppers fleeing from fires [27].  Low-severity fires probably have little direct effect on red-tailed hawks.  Landers [27] commented that light winter burning probably does no substantial harm to raptors. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Red-tailed hawks occur in the following 10 major fire-dependent plant associations in the western United States:  grasslands, semidesert shrub-grasslands, sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)-grasslands, chaparral, pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.) woodland, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, spruce-fir (Picea spp.-Abies spp.), redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) forests [29]. Suppression of fires in large expanses of treeless areas may benefit red-tailed hawks.  In southern Saskatchewan, the control of fires on the once open prairies and the planting of trees and shrubs has resulted in a semiopen, tree-grassland mosaic and consequent territory expansion and population increase of red-tailed hawks [38]. Although fire may reduce potential nest trees, it may also create snags for perch sites and enhance the foraging habitat of red-tailed hawks. Red-tailed hawks often perch on snags created by lightning strikes [3]. They often use fresh burns when foraging due to increased prey visibility [15,27,32,36].  Regular prescribed burning helps to maintain habitat for many prey species of red-tailed hawks [10,15,27,29,32]. Several studies indicate that many prey populations increase rapidly subsequent to burning in response to increased food availability [15,27].  Fire suppression in grasslands was detrimental to small bird and mammal populations due to organic matter accumulation and reduced plant vigor [47]. The suppression of natural fire in chaparral has resulted in reduced seral stage diversity and less edge [15] which has probably affected red-tailed hawks in these communities.  Red-tailed hawks are more abundant in recently burned chaparral areas than in unburned areas due to greater visibility and less cover for prey [36].  Additionally, red-tailed hawks are favored by fires that open up or clear pinyon-juniper woodlands [32].  Raptors associated with pinyon-juniper woodlands depend upon edges of openings created by fire and scattered islands of unburned woodlands [15]. In the first year following a severe fire in grassland, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana) habitat types on the Salmon National Forest, several red-tailed hawks were observed within the burn.  They were not observed in the area before the fire [10].  Following a fire in a mountain big sagebrush community on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, red-tailed hawks were more commonly observed using an area that experienced a severe fall fire than in a nearby area burned by a low-severity spring fire [33].  Red-tailed hawks have also been observed hunting on recently burned areas in Colorado County, Texas [2].   Although fire is often beneficial to red-tailed hawk prey species, Yensen and others [48] reported that in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area, southwestern Idaho, fire may reduce populations of Townsend's ground squirrels (Spermophilus townsendii). FIRE USE : Prescribed fire can be beneficial to red-tailed hawk populations by enhancing habitat and increasing the prey base [15,27].  Prescribed burning plans should strive for creation of maximum interspersion of openings and edge, with high vegetative diversity.  Habitats should be maintained in a random mosaic.  In most cases, burning plans must be integrated with proper range management.  Reseeding of perennial grasses as well as rest from livestock grazing may be necessary to achieve desired goals.  Burning should be deferred until nesting is completed in areas where impact to breeding red-tailed hawks may occur [15].  After logging, Benson [4] suggested broadcast burning rather than piling slash to reduce high temperature fires which may be destructive to soil organisms and small mammals.  For more information regarding the use of prescribed fire in specific habitats for the benefit of raptors, see Dodd [15]. An extensive body of research has been published on fire effects on animals in semidesert grassland, oak savanna, and Madrean oak woodlands of southeastern Arizona, including the response of red-tailed hawk to fire. See the Research Project Summary of this work for more information on red-tailed hawk and more than 100 additional species of birds, small mammals, grasshoppers, and herbaceous and woody plant species.


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
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H.; [and others]. 1991.        Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and        habitat use. Agric. Handb. 688. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service. 625 p.  [15856] 14.  Dickson, James G.; Conner, Richard N.; Williamson, J. Howard. 1983. Snag        retention increases bird use of a clear-cut. Journal of Wildlife        Management. 47(3): 799-804.  [13855] 15.  Dodd, Norris L. 1988. Fire management and southwestern raptors. In:        Gliski, R. L.; Pendleton, Beth Giron; Moss, Mary Beth; [and others],        eds. Proceedings of the southwest raptor symposium and workshop; 1986        May 21-24; Tucson, AZ. NWF Scientific and Technology Series No. 11.        Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 341-347.  [22648] 16.  DuBois, Kristi; Becker, Dale; Thornbrugh, Joe. 1987. Identification of        Montana's birds of prey. Montana Outdoors. 18(6): 11-31.  [3606] 17.  Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and        Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p.  [905] 18.  Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others].        1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range        ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p.  [998] 19.  Gates, J. M. 1972. Red-tailed hawk populations and ecology in        east-central Wisconsin. Wilson Bulletin. 84: 421-433.  [22707] 20.  Young, Leonard S. 1989. Effects of agriculture on raptors in the western        United States: an overview. In: Proceedings of the western raptor        symposium and workshop; 1987 October 26-28; Boise, ID. NWF Scientific        and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife        Federation: 209-218.  [22649] 21.  Houston, C. S.; Bechard, M. J. 1983. Trees and the red-tailed hawk in        southern Saskatchewan. 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Special Publication No. 36. New York:        American Geographical Society. 77 p.  [1384] 27.  Landers, J. Larry. 1987. Prescribed burning for managing wildlife in        southeastern pine forests. In: Dickson, James G.; Maughan, O. Eugene,        eds. Managing southern forests for wildlife and fish: a proceedings;        [Date of conference unknown]; [Location of conference unknown]. Gen.        Tech. Rep. SO-65. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture,        Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 19-27.  [11562] 28.  Lanier, John W.; Foss, Carol F. 1988. Habitat management for raptors on        large forested tracts and shorelines. In: Proceedings of the northeast        raptor management symposium and workshop; 1988 May 16-18; [Location of        conference unknown]. NWF Science and Technology Series No. 13.        Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 203-208.  [22696] 29.  Lehman, Robert N.; Allendorf, John W. 1989. 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