Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Year-round Resident

Spring: Red-tailed Hawks are the most common raptor species in both the Washington metro area and the United States. They are not common at Monticello Park, but you occasionally can see one fly over.

Fall: Each fall, 4 or 5 Red-tailed Hawks are seen at Monticello. They are seen much less often than Red-shouldered Hawks.

Where to See Them in the Park

Red-tailed Hawks prefer open areas to look for prey. They sometimes fly over Monticello Park, but they rarely perch there.

Physical Description

Red-tailed Hawk Adult
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

Adult Red-tailed Hawks are fairly easy to identify. They have long, rounded wings and a short red tail. They have a heavily streaked belly band on their light underparts. A dark border extends from the wing tip around the back edge of the wing. Each shoulder has a dark line. The sexes are similar. Red-tailed Hawks are larger and have a longer wingspan than Red-shouldered Hawks, a common species with whom a Red-tailed Hawk could be confused.

Red-tailed Hawk Juvenile
Juvenile - Photo by William Higgins

Red-tailed Hawk Juvenile
Juvenile - Photo by William Higgins

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks are not as easy to identify. The tail has light-and-dark bars and is not red, and the border on the wings is not pronounced. Juveniles still have the dark belly band.


The call of the Red-tailed Hawk is a descending scream that has a raspy quality. It is much less clear than the call of the Red-shouldered, and it is an archetypal raptor vocalization.

Hear the calls of the Red-tailed Hawk.


If you want to become confused about races, color morphs, and plumages, study the Red-tailed Hawk. The species has more than a dozen races, and some of the color morphs range from very pale to a deep chocolate-brown. Birds of these races and morphs go through a range of plumages. People who live in the Washington area usually don't have to deal with a lot of the more extreme variations.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Red-tailed from the adult's red tail. Hawk from an Anglo-Saxon word that means seize.
Genus Name: Buteo means hawk.
Species Name: Jamaicensis means from Jamaica, where the original specimen was found.

Red-tailed Hawk video footage

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