Scanning fields from a perch or while soaring high in the air, the red-tailed hawk mainly hunts for rodents and other small mammals, which may comprise as much as 75 percent of its diet. It also eats birds, snakes and carrion (4) (5). The red-tailed hawk varies its hunting strategy depending on the prey type. It may approach indirectly from behind the cover of trees or bushes, or perch and look disinterested in prey until its target’s attention is distracted, at which point it attacks quickly and fiercely (5).
The red-tailed hawk breeds in the early spring, with the exact timing varying with latitude (5). It is at this time that this species displays its acrobatic expertise, performing elaborate courtship displays. Pairs soar in wide circles at a great height, before the male dives steeply then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops, the male approaches the female from above, extends the legs and touches the female briefly. Sometimes the pair clasp talons and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away (4).
Red-tailed hawks breed for life, although a partner is soon replaced if it dies (3). Both adults cooperate to build a nest in the crown of a tall tree, which gives them a commanding view of the landscape. Pairs may also simply repair a nest used during previous seasons. The nest is a tall pile of dry sticks,with the inner cup lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation.
During nesting, red-tailed hawk pairs are extremely territorial and aggressively drive predators or intruders away from the nest site (3) (4). Usually 2 or 3 eggs are laid and incubated for 28 to 35 days. The chicks fledge at 42 to 48 days, but stay with the adults for a further 30 to 70 days before becoming fully independent. Most red-tailed hawks first breed at two years of age (2).