Natural Sightings #571 - Red-tailed Hawk.jpg

A Red-tailed Hawk perches in the branches of a conifer.

Michael Smith took this photo in his yard in Tehachapi of a Red-tailed Hawk perched in the branches of a conifer.

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are the most commonly-encountered raptor in the Tehachapi Mountains. They are adaptable to many different habitat types, and are also resourceful at foraging — while Redtails prey mostly upon small mammals, they will also take everything from birds to snakes to carrion.

Adult Red-tailed Hawks are currently pairing up and beginning to nest here in Southern California. They typically build large stick nests near the tops of trees. Sometimes they re-use nests from previous years, or commandeer those built in past years by ravens. The female lays of clutch of from one to five eggs, though two or three seems to be the average number of chicks that successfully fledge.

A good identifying mark to look for with Redtails is their dark hood. Red-tailed Hawks have extremely variable plumage, and their chests may be reddish, heavily streaked or very pale, but regardless of their other markings, they typically have a dark head. They don't develop their distinctive cinnamon red tail until their second or third year. Young birds tend to have a barred tail with alternating light and dark bands.

Redtails are often perch hunters, sitting atop trees, power poles or cross-arms and using their incredible eyesight, estimated to be seven times better than that of humans, to locate prey. They then drop down, legs outstretched and talons spread wide, to seize unsuspecting prey.

The Nüwa (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for Red-tailed Hawk is kwanazi, pronounced kwa-NAH-zee.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.