Thanks to the red-tail’s popularity with Hollywood sound engineers who use its shrill cry to stand in for myriad raptors, including bald eagles, moviegoers throughout the world know its voice. For a glimpse of the species’ aerial courtship display, look skyward from late winter through early spring. The pair soars in wide circles high above the earth, interrupted by the male’s steep dives toward ground and equally sharp climbs, inscribing a V with his flight path. Pairs often mate for life and together build a nest, incubate the young, and then teach their offspring to hunt.
Beyond its sheer beauty, the red-tail’s voracious diet of small rodents, rabbits, and even insects makes it popular with market gardeners and farmers. It’s less common in smaller gardens, where the hawk’s 4-foot wingspan hinders its ability to maneuver. While its keen eyesight enables it to hunt on the wing at altitudes of up to 200 feet, the red-tail is even more likely to scan for snacks from dead tree limbs and other perches that afford a broad view.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, April/May 2012