Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
Spring and early summer are some of the best times for birding, but late summer is a good time to catch many of the young of the year as they are setting out on their own.
This red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was first spotted on a fence post before quickly flying off a short ways to land in some sagebrush. It’s small size, reluctance to fly off very far, and the lack of red coloration on the tail and breast establish that it is likely a 1st-year juvenile. Hoping to get a little closer, we were actually able to get within about 15 yards without frightening it away.
Red-tailed hawks are the most common raptors in North America, but that doesn’t detract from the excitement of an opportunity to get this close to one, even if it is a youngster.
A close-up with the wildlife lens shows some of the reddish-brown coloration around the eyes and breast that will distinguish it as an adult. Also notice that sharp beak.
Another close-up of the feet shows off one of those talons that, along with the beak, allow it to snag small mammals and birds, its primary food as an adult. Young birds will often feed on grasshoppers or carrion.
Most Westerners know the sound of a red-tailed hawk quite well, but so does anyone who has ever seen a western film. Hollywood loves to include stock sound tracks of an “eagle scream” for ambience, but the sound is almost always the shrill cry of a red-tailed hawk. In any case, the red-tail is certainly a Western icon, in film and in real life.