Bird Profile: Red-tailed Hawk

Chances are you have seen this species before; this large hawk is one of the most widely distributed, numerous and commonly observed raptors in Canada. With a wingspan of up to 1.4m (58”) the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable buteo; soaring hawks that have wide tails and long, broad wings. Circling high up in the air, the Red-tailed Hawk can see mice scurrying about on the ground from 30 m (100ft) up .

This particular hawk in the photo appears to have done just that; he saw a mouse and then caught it, bringing the unfortunate rodent away to eat it, flying right over my head in the process of carrying off the mouse.

As mentioned before, the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable hawk with at least 14 recognized subspecies; ranging from the dark ‘Harlan’s Hawk’ to the ‘Krider’s Hawk’, a very pale subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks love woodlands near open country; therefore, their habitat is diverse and they can be seen almost anywhere in Calgary. In summer, we tend to see light-colored morphs of the Western calurus the most and in migration and winter, we usually see dark morph ‘Harlan’s Hawks’. Also, in the southern part of Alberta, we have some krider’s Red-tailed Hawks. However, no matter what subspecies you see, they are still very impressive, especially when you get a good look at those talons!

Posted by Matthew Sim

2 thoughts on “Bird Profile: Red-tailed Hawk

  1. Can you please direct me to a site that gives advice on dealing with hawks around our business? We work in the Foothills Industrial area in Calgary and during the spring, we have them dive-bombing people and making lots of noise. We don’t want them hurt, I just want some tips on how to better prepare everyone for the coming spring season. Hope you can help. Thanks in advance. Please email me if you have anything. Not sure what kind of hawks they are by the way. Swainson or Red-Tailed.

    • We’ve discussed this a bit and we don’t have much to suggest. The hawks are likely Swainson’s (Red-tails don’t like to be too near to people). This behavior should only last during the breeding period, from when the eggs are laid until the young fledge. The adults will dive-bomb people if they get too close but probably won’t strike them unless they persist in approaching the nest.
      Recently a Barred Owl in Oregon has been doing this to joggers, and the city has put up warning signs. Here is a link to an article about it. A similar sign near your business might help to inform people, and gain you some notoriety too.

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