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Overwintering Red-tailed Hawks

12-24-14 red-tailed hawk-juvenile 002Red-tailed hawks are “partial migrants” — some individuals are migratory, and others are not. Many Red-tails living in the northern portion of the species’ range in southern Canada and northern United States migrate to more southerly locations for the winter. A few northern birds, however, remain on their breeding territories even in the most severe winters.

Overwintering Red-tailed Hawks are generally easy to spot, as they often perch on dead trees overlooking open fields and on telephone poles next to highways, where they watch for prey. Mice, voles, squirrels, snowshoe hares and an occasional bird make up most of their diet. If you notice the coloration of a Red-tailed Hawk’s tail, it will tell you whether the bird is a juvenile or adult. Adults have rufous tails; juveniles have barred, brownish tails. Seconds after this photograph was taken this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk killed and consumed an American Crow while being mobbed by more than 50 other crows.

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16 responses

  1. That last line is amazing! Another terrific post!

    December 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm

  2. Yari Bond

    Ha! The look on this bird made me think of you Lily!

    December 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm

  3. Suzanne

    Red-tailed hawks are just about my favorite creature (if there can possibly be one). What a harrowing sight you witnessed! Wow. Reminds me of the time I saw a sharpie swoop in, grab a blue jay, and pluck it alive while it screamed and grasped the hawk’s ankles. Those Wild Kingdom moments… They happen so often yet we see them so seldom.

    Happy Xmas, if you celebrate. We don’t, but here’s my anti-gray weather light cluster (w/ seldom purchased long distance tulips – yesterday I broke down!).

    Best wishes…. Suzanne

    Sent from my iPad


    December 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    • Best wishes to you, too, Suzanne. WordPress doesn’t allow photos to come through with messages, but visions of your tulips are in my head!

      December 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm

  4. Bill On The Hill...

    Hi Mary… Great description on the Red-Tail & as usual, an excellent photograph which makes your Naturally Curious Blog all the more special too me.
    Merry Christmas, BF…

    December 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    • Thank you so much, Bill. And a very Merry Christmas to you, as well!

      December 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm

  5. janetpesaturo

    Great post – Would it be the same individuals staying here in MA for winter, as the ones who spent summer here? Or is it that summering red-tails go south, and those that spend winter here come from further north?

    I ask because in fall, it seems like all the patterns change. Red-tails begin going for our chickens, and continue doing so through winter (although Cooper’s hawks are much bolder in that regard). I’ve always wondered whether this was because the cast of characters changed, or because wild fare is harder to find and caloric demands higher, due to cold.

    December 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    • Great question, Janet. I’m afraid I can’t answer it and I’m not sure, unless they were banded and retrieved, anyone could. It could be either — breeding birds or migrants from the north. It seems as though your observation skills may indicate they are different birds. Red-tails molt both body and wing feathers in the fall, though, so I really don’t think there’s a way to tell, but I could be wrong.

      December 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

  6. Excellent capture of a majestic-looking red-tail. They can be ruthless, but they are just doing their job, right?

    December 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    • Right you are, Eliza. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

      December 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      • Thank you, Mary and the same to you!

        December 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

  7. Patrick

    Impressive that this juvenile red tail killed and ate a crow!


    On Wed, 2014-12-24 at 12:55 +0000, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote: > Mary Holland posted: “Red-tailed hawks are “partial migrants” — some > individuals are migratory, and others are not. Many Red-tails living > in the northern portion of the species’ range in southern Canada and > northern United States migrate to more southerly locations for the ” >

    December 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm

  8. Watched a pair of Red tails flying this morning in crystal clear cobalt blue sky this morning here in Athens, Georgia.

    December 25, 2014 at 4:19 pm

  9. Pat

    Got a mouse for you, Mary! Cat left one in our bedroom while we were out Christmas day. just bag and freeze it? PR

    December 26, 2014 at 1:52 am

    • Fantastic, Pat (at least for me and the owl, perhaps not to much for you!) I’m working on letting the library be a drop-off spot. Meanwhile, if you don’t mind keeping it in your freezer, that would be great! (If the library doesn’t work out, I’ll be over!)

      December 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

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