Red-tailed Hawks are carnivorous and opportunistic feeders. Their diet is mainly small mammals, but it also includes the occasional bird and reptile. Prey varies with regional and seasonal availability, but rodents comprise up to 85% of the hawk's diet. Most common prey types include mice, voles, chipmunks, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and rabbits.
Red-tailed hawks tend to keep the same territories their whole lives. These territories can be as large as large as 10 square miles. They may perch in one area for a couple weeks and then move on to another location. They do not migrate, but may move short distances during the colder months to areas where there is more prey and return to their home range as the weather warms up again.
You can continue to feed as normal. Hawks would never eat all your birds or scare them away for long. Little birds are very smart with all sorts of tactics to outwit bigger birds of prey.
Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
- First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the hawk leaves. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
- Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties.
- Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.
- Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding.
Fun facts on Red-tailed Hawks
- If a hawk finishes a meal with their crop bulging, it may not hunt again for a couple days. The crop is a pouch halfway between the mouth and the stomach, where food is stored and gradually released to the stomach. The crop maintains the steady flow of food needed to sustain these big birds.
- Averaging 19 inches long, with a wingspread of about 50 inches and an average weight of 2.4 pounds, the Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest hawks in North America.
- The Red-tailed Hawks scientific name is Buteo jamaicensis. The genus Buteo is Latin for broad rounded wings. And jamaicensis is named for Jamaica, West Indies, the first place they were identified.
- Red-tailed hawks often mate for life. Their courtship starts with each bird flying in circles high in the sky. Then the male makes a steep dive toward the ground, turns, and flies straight back up. The pair may then grab each other by their talons and fall together, spiraling, toward the ground where they fly apart
- The pair nests in the same stick nest each year high in a tree. The female hawk lays one to five eggs—which are white with brown spots on the outside of the shell and green inside. Both parents incubate the eggs and raise the young.
- Most people view hawks, owls and falcons as the enemies of smaller birds. However just because birds of prey may kill and eat some birds, doesn’t make them evil or unwanted. House Sparrows, European Starlings, and other small birds may nest in or near a hawks nest for protection.
- Baby red-tailed hawks are covered with white, downy feathers. The hawk parents feed their young bugs worms and small prey until they can leave the nest, usually when they're about six weeks old.
- Red-tailed hawks are important members of the ecosystems. They help control populations of small mammals such as rabbits, as well as help farmers by keeping down the numbers of mice, moles, and other rodents that eat their crops.
Thank you very much for the information. We live in a residential area & it is very strange to see this bird hanging around. Food must be scarce. They are beautiful birds but I have to say that I’m looking forward to it returning to its own habitat.