Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are arguably the most common hawk in North America, present from Alaska and further north into Canada, throughout the United States and extending south into Central America to Panama and Venezuela.
Keep reading to learn more about whether these feisty birds of prey have any natural predators themselves, as we discuss red-tailed hawk population numbers and answer the question: are red-tailed hawks endangered?
Red-tailed hawks are widespread throughout the United States’ different habitats, and are rated as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List. In contrast to many other species, red-tailed hawks have adapted well to habitat loss from deforestation and population numbers are steady.
Red-tailed hawks tolerate regions with urban development and human habitation provided tree cover and food are available. They can be found in patchy woodland areas, as well as open pasture interspersed with tall tree cover and denser woodland tracts, and this ability to adapt to changing landscapes has ensured their numbers have remained stable and even increased in some regions.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the species was under threat due to human hunting, use of DDT in pesticides and lead contamination in rodents and other common prey items of hawks. However since 1970s legislation outlawed hunting hawks and they became officially protected, there has been somewhat of a red-tailed hawk revival.
If you’re interested in finding out about these easily identified birds of prey and their conservation status across the United States, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn more!
Red-tailed Hawk numbers are relatively stable, which is why they are listed as a species of least concern
Hawks and other raptors were added to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in 1972, introducing important safeguarding measures for red-tailed hawks.
This was a turning point for the survival of the species, from the 19th century onwards hawks were widely regarded as agricultural pests.
Shooting hawks to control numbers and protect livestock was allowed without restriction, with farmers paying a bounty of $1205 per bird in the late 19th century.
The introduction of the 1972 legislation prohibited not only the killing of red-tailed hawks in the wild, but also made it illegal for them to be taken from the wild or purchased as pets.
Red-tailed Hawk taking off with prey in talons
Red-tailed hawks are not classified as threatened by either the IUCN Red List or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but this does not mean that their lives are risk-free.
Humans and human-made threats account for a high share of red-tailed hawk fatalities, including trapping and illegal hunting, contaminated prey (from rat poison), vehicle collisions and entanglement in power cables.
As is the case with many powerful and aggressive birds of prey, red-tailed hawks are reasonably near the top of the food chain. But this does not mean they are free from the threat of predators.
Great horned owls are perhaps the deadliest predator for the species, mainly targeting nestlings and juvenile birds. Animals such as coyotes, bobcats, red foxes, and racoons are among the species’ most common predators, particularly if they come across an injured red-tailed hawk.
Red-tailed hawk coming in to land in the forest
Population estimates vary, with the global number of red-tailed hawks thought to be around 2.3 million birds globally, of which up to 90 percent of nesting birds are found in the United States. The red-tailed hawk population in the U.S. was estimated at 1.96 million in 2008, with figures having risen steadily in the four previous decades.
It’s not considered particularly rare to spot a red-tailed hawk if you find yourself in their preferred natural habitats of open and semi-open woodlands and grasslands. They are widespread across the United States and are a particularly common sight out of car windows on long road trips, soaring above the open fields that line the highways.
Once-treeless grasslands of the Great Plains region of the U.S. that have become increasingly forested over the last century have witnessed an increase in the presence of red-tailed hawks.
In the Mid-Western U.S. where woodlands have been cleared for human development, red-tails are also thriving, and have overtaken red-shouldered hawks to become one of the region’s most prevalent birds of prey.
Red-tailed hawk soaring in flight from below
Red-tailed hawks are present in every continental U.S. state, either as year-round residents, or as breeding or overwintering populations.
Every mainland state, from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula and Gulf of Mexico supports breeding populations, with many birds traveling south in winter from the locations furthest to the north and in Canada.
The states with highest likelihoods of seeing a red-tailed hawk are perhaps Washington and parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, where they are classed as common to abundant birds all year round. Dense concentrations of wintering red-tailed hawks can be found in Washington, Idaho and Utah.
Close up portrait of a Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning it’s a federal offense to kill them or take them into captivity from the wild. The only exceptions are if someone has been granted a federal permit and even then, shooting a red-tailed hawk is only authorized in situations that are related to public health and safety.
Bucking the trend of many wild bird species in North America (and globally) with declining numbers, figures showed that the population of red-tailed hawks increased 1.3 percent each year between 1966 and 2019, according to data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
One reason to explain why red-tailed hawks are thriving rather than in decline, despite environmental pressures and a changing landscape, is their adaptability to be able to hunt and survive in different climates and habitats, including tropical forests, arid deserts and barren steppes.
Habitat loss due to development and human habitation does not deter them from claiming a territory and they survive well in urban settings, feeding on pigeons and rats that are in abundant supply in crowded cities.
Red-tailed hawk perched on the branch of a tree
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