Red-tailed hawks from the Buteo genus are one of the most common birds of prey in North and Central America. There are some 16 subspecies, and they’re known for their adaptable nature and flexible hunting abilities.
Here, we’re going to answer the question: how big are Red-tailed hawks?
Red-tailed hawks are one of the larger members of the Buteo genus, measuring 45 to 65cm (18 to 26in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 141cm (3ft 7in to 4ft 8in). They weigh around 690 to 1600 g (1.5 to 3.5 lb). The female is around 25% larger than the male.
These adaptable birds of prey are common throughout the USA, Canada, and large parts of Central America, including the Antilles.
Red-tailed hawks in the northernmost parts of that range are generally larger, consistent with Bergmann’s Rule, which suggests organisms further from the equator are larger because of colder average temperatures.
However, there are some contradictions, as the Alaskan subspecies are one of the smallest. The differences between subspecies are small, involving just a couple of inches or ounces here and there.
Of course, there is much more to learn about this wonderful hawk - read on to find out!
Red-tailed Hawks are of of the largest members of the Buteo genus
Red-tailed hawks are large birds with wingspans ranging up to around 140cm (4ft 8in) for the largest females.
The impressive wingspan of a soaring Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks generally weigh between 1kg (2.2lb) to 1.5kg (3.3lb), but some large females have been recorded weighing 1.7kg (3.74lb).
The size and weight of Red-tailed hawks differ across the 16 subspecies. For example, the Southwestern, Western, and Florida Red-tailed hawks are among the largest. Here, typical weights lie at the higher end of the average.
The Alaskan and Jamaican subspecies are two of the smallest. Here, typical weights lie at the lower end of the average. For example, some small subspecies males weigh as little as 750g compared to 1kg elsewhere.
Broadly speaking, Red-tailed hawks are slightly larger on average in the north of their range, except for the small Alaskan subspecies.
The Florida, Southwestern and Western subspecies are amongst the largest of the Red-tailed Hawks
Red-tailed hawks are one of the largest birds you’re likely to see in North and Central America. Their wingspan ranges up to 143cm (56in), about the same height as an 11-year-old boy.
They’re the second largest hawk in North America, second to the Ferruginous hawk, which isn’t much bigger. Red-tailed hawks are bulky and robust, too, so they’re quite imposing when soaring in the sky.
The heaviest female Red-tailed hawk on record weighed 1,723g (3.799 lb). The female was wintering in Wisconsin.
Red-tailed Hawk perched on a rock wall
Some sources state that Red-tailed hawks can take off with prey weighing up to 2.2kg or 5lb. However, that’s considerably more than the hawk’s own body weight - or more than double for an average-sized male - and seems unlikely for the most part.
In reality, Red-tailed hawks can probably only lift 2 to 3 lbs at the very most. Even 3lb would be pushing the boundaries for the largest females.
However, there have been many observations of Red-tailed hawks catching reasonably large ducks, large snakes, and domestic chickens which weigh up to 3lb or so.
Close up of a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a fence
Red-tailed hawks use their size to catch a vast range of prey ranging from small frogs, toads, and reptiles to large snakes, birds, and mammals.
The diet of a Red-tailed Hawk varies hugely across its range, but most prey weighs 20% of the bird’s body weight or less. So very large prey is by no means a Red-tailed hawk’s preference, but they’re capable of lifting more weight than most members of the Buteo genus.
Moreover, a large wingspan helps these birds soar at great altitudes, enabling them to spot prey from a distance. During migration, they use thermal currents to soar at height, increasing their flight efficiency over long distances.
Red-tailed Hawk diving on prey
Compared to other birds of prey in North and Central America, Red-tailed hawks are not particularly large, but you can’t underestimate them as small birds of prey.
However, they’re larger than Red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and the 16 to 19 species of hawks from the Buteo genus that inhabit much of the same range as the Red-tailed hawk.
In fact, the Red-tailed hawk is second only to the Ferruginous hawk, which is the largest Buteo in North America.
Red-tailed Hawk hunting for prey
Red-tailed hawks are the second biggest hawk in North America after the Ferruginous hawk. The Ferruginous hawk has a similar wingspan but weighs more at 1.5kg on average (3.3lb).
Bald eagles weigh around 3 to 6 times more than Red-tailed hawks, and their wingspan of around 6.5 feet (2m) is considerably larger than the Red-tailed hawk’s 141cm (4ft 8in) wingspan.
Red-tailed hawks can only carry a maximum of 2kg (4lb) or so, which is less than a newborn baby human.
There are a few breeds of dogs that weigh less than 2kg, like chihuahuas and Pomeranians, but it would be tough for a Red-tailed hawk to fly off with them. While they could feasibly take off with a tiny dog, an adult dog would likely put up too much resistance to make it worth it.
Of course, it’s necessary to take care of puppies outside where hawks and other birds of prey are roaming the skies, but adult dogs are relatively safe from Red-tailed hawks.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox
© 2022 - Bird Fact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.