Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis (Gmelin)
Status Uncommon in summer, fairly common in winter. Breeds. In summer it normally frequents heavily timbered regions more or less remote from settlement but in winter is often found in the vicinity of farms and settled districts, and around poultry plants, where it may become a scavenger. Large numbers have been tallied during Christmas Bird Counts at Wolfville in recent years (89 in 1982). The peak of fall migration occurs in October; over 60 were recorded in passage along Digby Neck on 27 October 1984.
Description Length: 48-64 cm. Adults: Upperparts brown or grayish brown, often with some reddish brown about head and neck. Tail chestnut above (paler below) with narrow black band near tip. Underparts whitish with narrow dark streaks on chin, throat and breast. A more or less well-defined band composed of broad blackish streaks across upper belly. Immatures: Upperparts dark brown with white spots and streaks intermingled. Tail grayish brown, crossed by narrow blackish bars. Underparts whitish streaked with brown much like adults.
Breeding Nest: In tall trees, a marked preference being shown for white and yellow birches; occasionally well hidden in a tall spruce; composed of sticks and similar in general constnuction to that of the Goshawk but usually situated at considerably greater heights. Eggs: 2-4, usually 3; dull white, irregularly washed and sometimes blotched about the larger end with various shades and densities of rich chocolate brown. A nest located 18-20 m up a giant yellow birch at White Rock, Kings County,on 30 April 1928 contained four eggs. A pair was seen nest-repairing at Gaspereau Mountain on 30 March 1919 and two other pairs were similarly engaged in the same general area on 6 and 10 April 1944. On 12 May 1968, Cyril Coldwell found a nest that was noteworthy, placed about 15-17 m up a large tree in a thick clump of spruces growing in open woodland, segregated from other large trees. The nest was so well hidden that its location was only discovered by patient waiting at considerable distance to watch the bird return to it. Within a quarter mile stood a growth of solid hardwoods of the type usually acceptable to the species for nesting. The young were successfully reared. This hawk is far less pugnacious in defence of its nest than the Goshawk, though some individuals are bolder than others.
Range Breeds in most of southern Canada (except Newfoundland) north to near the tree limit and south through much of the United States and West Indies. Several races are recognized.
Remarks This is the hawk usually seen high overhead soaring in great circles with wings and tail spread widely. Its usual call, sometimes heard intermittently when soaring, is a prolonged, wheezy whistle which has been likened to the sound of escaping steam.
Stomach analyses of hundreds of specimens provide indisputable evidence that this hawk is of high economic value to the agriculturist. John B. May (1935) mentions the examination of 850 stomachs of the Red-tailed Hawk 86 percent held small mammals; less than 10 percent held poultry and game birds; and the rest contained small birds, reptiles and insects. One shot at Gaspereau on 17 November 1935 by Cyril Coldwell was found to have devoured three field mice and one Red Squirrel; and the stomach of an adult male collected by Godfrey near Baddeck on 13 July 1954 contained three Cinerous Shrews (Sorex cinereus), two Smoky Shrews (Sorex fumeus) and one Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica). One hawk flushed on Wolfville Ridge on 27 December 1933 by Ronald W. Smith left a freshly killed Common Snipe on the blood-stained snow. Frequently the food of this hawk consists of dead or crippled birds. This may account for at least a portion of the poultry or game birds found in their stomachs it is not correct to assume that every bird eaten has been killed by the hawk itself.
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