Nature's Focus: The Red-tailed Hawk

Photos courtesy of Thomas W. Gorman

by Thomas W. Gorman

One of the most common hawks seen throughout New Jersey, and all of North America for that matter, is the Red-tailed Hawk, (Buteo jamaicensis). This species can be seen soaring high in the sky, perched on a tree branch or telephone pole, and even flying vertically to a particular height and then diving quickly to the ground below to capture its prey. 

In the spring time, a pair of mating Red-tails can be seen “battling”, which is basically their way of courting.  The pair will simply play around in the sky. Their soaring, diving and false “attacks” on each other are quite impressive to watch.  During their courtship display, they will even grab each other’s talons and tumble from the sky, only to release from each other as they get closer to the tree tops. Their aerobatic skills and even their means of attacking prey are astounding and entertaining.

Red-tailed Hawks appear to have a decently stable presence in New Jersey. This healthy population can also be indicative of the food chain “below” them.  Red-tailed hawks have a varied food supply which includes, but is not limited to: moles, voles, rats, rabbits, squirrels, snakes and birds.  The Red-tail’s habitat is basically unlimited, and they will be found anywhere that their prey can be found. 

Red-tailed Hawks, along with approximately 18 other species of raptors, are starting their migration south for the winter. Throughout New Jersey, the 14 HMANA (Hawk Migration Assoc. of North America)-sanctioned watch sites will be counting migrating raptors from the small Merlin up to the larger Bald and Golden Eagles. Within this variety of migrating raptors will be the Red-tailed Hawk.

If you want to see great views of the Red-tailed Hawks, or any other species of migrating raptors, you are welcome to visit any of the hawk watches in New Jersey, including the Wildcat Ridge WMA, Montclair or Chimney Rock in northern NJ; Sandy Hook in Central NJ; and the Cape May Point State Park in southern NJ. 

The fall migration is presently active and all hawk watch sites will be open through the middle of November. Not only will you have a wonderful experience, but you can also see the natural beauty of the Red-tailed Hawk and all other raptors, as they soar through the sky above you.

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  • 9/8/2011 11:32 AM Patrick wrote:
    Just two comments, the Sandy Hook Hawk Watch is only in the spring. You still have a chance to see hawks there in the fall, it's just not a primary migration route.

    Second, the correct common name for the bird is "Red-tailed Hawk."
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  • 9/15/2011 8:41 PM Tom G wrote:
    Good evening Patrick,
    Thank you very much for the corrections. I enjoy the Hook so much that I tend to mention it often. I appreciate the correction with the Red-tailed Hawk. Totally an typing error on my part.
    Thank you again and have a nice night
    Reply to this
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