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The Birds of Autumn: Red-tailed Hawks

Which birds might I see today? Red-tailed Hawks

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk seen on Woodsdale Road behind the tennis courts

As the leaves fall and temperatures cool, hawk migration goes into high gear. Those species of hawk that came here to breed in the summer go south and those that bred in the High Arctic come for the winter. But the hawk you are most likely to see in our valley is one that is here year-round, the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks are the most abundant hawk species across Canada. They are large birds, 19” (48 cm) and with a wingspan of 50” (1.25 m).

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk lifting off on Trewhitt Road in Oyama

Confusingly they come in a range of plumages, from dark to light. But the characteristics to look for are a dark head and a broad dark streaked belly band, with a paler breast. When they are overhead you can clearly see a dark mark all along the leading edge of the wing. When perched and seen from behind they usually have a V of white feathers from each shoulder meeting in the middle of the back. The red tail is not always apparent, and young birds do not develop it until fully mature.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk, reddish morph, on the Commonage Road in Vernon

Some birds have an all-over reddish tinge to their feathers.

These are the hawks to which all others are compared. They are often seen perched along roadsides, looking like a football in the tree or on the wire. They soar on their broad stocky wings to look for prey, typically small rodents or mammals. Marmots are a favourite food!

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk with prey (possibly a skunk) along South Lakeshore Road in Kelowna

If you are a golfer and watch golf on TV, you will often hear a Red-tailed Hawk’s rasping scream in the background (often dubbed in, not recorded on site). It sounds like a downward “Kehaaar”.

Keep your eyes and ears open for the Red-tailed Hawks in your neighbourhood. They are wonderful to watch as they circle in the sky and glide over our hillsides. If I could fly, I’d like to fly like a Red-tailed Hawk!


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