Wildlife in Your Backyard: Attracting Red-Tailed Hawks

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A Young Red-Tailed Hawk

A Young Red-Tailed Hawk

Although it may be unlikely if you live in a highly urban setting, Red-Tailed Hawks have been known to nest just about anywhere, including a famous Red-Tailed Hawk that shares an apartment building with Woody Allen! Red-Tailed Hawks, however, tend to prefer wide-open spaces, and are frequently residents in largely rural settings, including crop fields, pastures, and open country.

If you have ever watched a Western, you have probably heard the screech of the Red-Tailed Hawk, which is substituted whenever any kind of raptor such as an eagle is shown: eagles, especially, have much less cinematic cries. Red-Tailed Hawks feed primarily on small rodents, and so are extremely valuable in keeping down the populations of mice, rats, voles, shrews, and other rodents. These wild birds are very highly intelligent and are keenly observant, and thus are well adapted to living in proximity to humans. Red-Tailed Hawks will follow hunters, dogs, badgers, or anything that is liable to flush out their desired prey, and are easily trained for the sport of falconry.

If you wish to attract Red-Tailed Hawks, you will need to provide suitable hunting and nesting sites. Red-Tailed Hawks like to soar high in the air to hunt, focusing their extremely sharp vision on the ground, and stooping to catch prey at over eighty miles per hour. Red-Tailed Hawk couples mate for life, after a dazzling courtship display, which may include two hawks catching each other’s talons in the air, and diving to the ground in a spiral; and Red-Tailed Hawks return to the same nest year after year. Their nests are usually constructed high in the treetops because the baby birds take much longer to develop enough to be able to fly, and therefore the baby birds must be out of the reach of raccoons and other predators who can climb to high nests to eat baby birds and eggs. I have seen Red-Tailed Hawk couples rear young and then have the young set up nests only a few hundred yards away two years later; once I saw a juvenile give up a kill to the father so the father could feed the fledglings.

Red-Tailed Hawks prefer tall, isolated trees, with plenty of open field space around the tree. They will soar in the air or perch on telephone poles to track their prey, and then swoop down on the prey, and carry it off to a high perch to eat it.

Do not pick up shed feathers, or attempt to catch a Red-Tailed Hawk. Red-Tailed Hawks, and even lost feathers, are protected under the eagle feather law, and if you are caught with even a tiny piece of a feather, you can be fined up to $25,000. It’s just not worth the risk!

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