Interesting Creatures…The Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

October 16, 2011 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Interesting Creatures in Guyana 



In some parts of the world, a Chickenhawk or Chicken Hawk is an unofficial designation for three species of  hawks: the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawk. The term Chicken Hawk, however, is inappropriate. Although Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks may attack other birds, chickens do not make up a significant part of their diet; Red-tailed Hawks have varied diets, and although they may opportunistically hunt free-range poultry, it is not a primary source of food.
Historically, misinterpretation of the name “Chicken Hawk” has labelled these birds as pests, hence justifying their slaughter. Officially, per the American Ornithologists’ Union’s list of bird names, the term has become obsolete as applied to birds, but still enjoys widespread colloquial use in rural areas where any of the three species has been seen as a threat to small outdoor animals kept as pets or livestock, especially chickens.
While the term is still widely used by those who keep such animals, it is too ambiguous to be of any scholarly usefulness, especially since the meaning of hawk differs between America and Europe; thus, the term’s propriety (or lack thereof) depends entirely upon context.
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) for instance is a bird of prey, which breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common buteos in North America.
Red-tailed Hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within its range. There are 14 recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm (18 to 26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm (43 to 57 in).
The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25 per cent heavier than males. This hawk species occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails. Falconers are permitted to take only passage hawks (which have left the nest, are on their own, but are less than a year old) so as to not affect the breeding population. Adults, which may be breeding or rearing chicks, may not be taken for falconry purposes and it is illegal to do so. Passage Red-Tailed Hawks are also preferred by falconers because these younger birds have not yet developed adult behaviors, which can make training substantially more challenging.
The Red-tailed Hawk also has significance in Native American culture. Its feathers are considered sacred by some tribes, and are used in religious ceremonies.
Red-tailed Hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. These colour variations are morphs, and are not related to molting.
Though the markings and hue vary, the basic appearance of the Red-tailed Hawk is consistent. The underbelly is lighter than the back and a dark brown band across the belly, formed by vertical streaks in feather patterning, is present in most colour variations. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and pink below. The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors. They have short, broad tails and thick, chunky wings. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the Red-tailed Hawk are all yellow.
Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature Red-Tailed Hawk is patterned with numerous darker bars.
(Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)

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