Nature Journal
with Photos

          
Red-tailed Hawk Identification Tips
(Credit: U. S. Geological Survey)
 

General Information
- Sexes similar
- Short, dark, hooked beak
- Large, broad-winged, broad-tailed hawk
- Immatures have notably narrower wings and tail, and   appear slimmer
- Dark patagial mark on underwing, present on all ages   and races, is unique
- Blocky translucent area in outer primaries
- Flies with a dihedral
- Extraordinary geographic variation

Light morph adult
- Brown head, nape, back, and upperwings
- White chin, throat, breast, and belly
- Dark belly band formed by vertical streaks in band    across belly
- White underwings have dark carpal bar on leading   edge, dark outer primary tips and a dark trailing edge   and are otherwise pale with dark bars on the flight   feathers on all but the outermost primaries
- Tail appears brick red above and pink below
- Breast and back pattern vary with geography, with   some birds being intermediate between light and dark   morphs

Light morph immature
- Like adult, but with less distinct markings below, and   brown tail with numerous narrow, dark bands

Dark morph adult
- Wholly dark chocolate underparts, upperparts and   underwing coverts with no apparent patagial mark
- Pale underside to primaries and secondaries like light   morph birds being pale with dark tips and dark bars on   the flight feathers
- Tail appears brick red above and pink below (like light   morph adult)
- Breast and back pattern vary with geography, with   some birds being intermediate between light and dark   morphs

Dark morph immature
- Dark brown head, neck, breast, back, upperwing and   underwing coverts are variably mottled with white and   buff
- Dark brown tail with numerous darker bars
- Paler flight feathers with dark barring on all but the   outermost primaries

Note: Harlan's Hawk, Krider's Hawk, and Fuerte's Hawk are not found in New England.

Similar species
Red tail, patagial mark and belly band diagnostic when present. Due to its extreme variability though, the Red-tailed Hawk can be very difficult to identify.

Most other light morph buteos are separable by shape and plumage, with Ferruginous Hawk being the most similar. The adult Ferruginous can be identified by its lack of a belly band, rufous leggings, paler flight feathers, lack of a patagial mark, and extensive reddish coloration on the upperwing coverts. The immature Ferruginous is similar to the immature Red-tailed but lacks the dark patagial mark.

Dark morph Swainson's has dark flight feathers and white undertail coverts. Rough-legged has unmarked flight feathers and a white comma in the outermost underwing coverts. Other dark morph buteos (Broad-winged, Short-tailed) are smaller with different flight profiles. Immature White-tailed Hawk has a white diamond on its central breast.

 
 
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