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:
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for the red-tailed hawk is Buteo
jamaicensis (Gmelin). It is in the family Accipitridae . Seven
recognized subspecies occur in North America and are listed below
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
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
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
Buteo jamaicensis ssp. alascensis breeds (probably resident) from
southeastern coastal Alaska (Yakutat Bay) to Queen Charlotte Islands and
Vancouver Island, British Columbia .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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
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 .
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 .
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
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 :
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].
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
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 .
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 .
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 . 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 .
Fledging - Nestlings fledge in 42 to 46 days [16,20,22,38]. Males
fledge earlier than females . Fledglings continue to be fed by
parents and remain within the nesting territory for 30 days or more
after fledging .
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 .
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 . 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 .
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 . Further south, red-tailed hawks
begin migrating from early October to mid-December .
Longevity - Red-tailed hawks have been reported to live up to 16 years
in the wild and 29 years in captivity . The average longevity for a
red-tailed hawk that survives to maturity is 6 to 7 years .
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 . 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 .
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 . 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 .
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.) . 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) .
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 .
In Snohomish County, Washington, only black cottonwood (Populus
trichocarpa) and red alder (Alnus rubra) were utilized for nesting. No
nests were found in conifers . 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%) . 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 . 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 .
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 . Houston and Bechard  documented the
increase of nesting red-tailed hawks following the expansion of trees
into the prairie regions of Saskatchewan .
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 . They are often observed hunting in clearcuts and
non-forested areas . 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 .
James  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
. Foraging habitat in the Midwest is limited by large expanses of
cereal crops .
Winter habitat - Winter habitat for red-tailed hawks is generally the
same as the nesting habitat, except that high elevation areas are not
used . 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 .
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 , reported that in the highlands of southeastern New
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
. 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 . 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 . 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
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].
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,
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 .
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 .
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 . Clearcutting is often
detrimental to the nest site but may be beneficial to local populations
of red-tailed hawks by providing foraging habitat . 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 . 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 . In southeastern New York
and northern New Jersey, no red-tailed hawk nests were found near
high-density suburban housing developments .
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
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 . 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 . They have been reported feeding on grasshoppers fleeing
from fires . Low-severity fires probably have little direct effect
on red-tailed hawks. Landers  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
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 .
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 .
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 .
The suppression of natural fire in chaparral has resulted in reduced
seral stage diversity and less edge  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 . Additionally,
red-tailed hawks are favored by fires that open up or clear
pinyon-juniper woodlands . Raptors associated with pinyon-juniper
woodlands depend upon edges of openings created by fire and scattered
islands of unburned woodlands .
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 . 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 . Red-tailed hawks have also been observed hunting on recently
burned areas in Colorado County, Texas .
Although fire is often beneficial to red-tailed hawk prey species, Yensen
and others  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 . After
logging, Benson  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
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.
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Buteo jamaicensis
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