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Birdwatching: Look for red-tails in the sunset

By Dr. Madeline Kalbach

For the Observer

Published on November 28, 2017 2:55PM

A red-tail hawk sitting on a nesting box in the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge shows off the plumage for which it is named.

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTO

A red-tail hawk sitting on a nesting box in the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge shows off the plumage for which it is named.

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Red-tail hawks are a familiar sight in local skies.

Susan Stauffer photo

Red-tail hawks are a familiar sight in local skies.

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As autumn wanes there are still many days warmed by the sunshine. Sunny days are the perfect kind of days to observe raptors against the sunlit sky. Red-tailed hawks can often be seen showing off their beautiful red tails against the evening sky as they soar high in the air keeping an eye out for small mammals, amphibians, snakes and other critters for a tasty meal or two. Their family responsibilities are over for another year so they can afford to rest on their laurels and look after themselves.

Red-tailed hawks are with us on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the peninsula year round. They nest here and they winter here. They keep us company in every season. Tarlatt seems to have a resident red-tail. Its piercing scream can usually be heard daily. It can be seen flying over the area, perched in one of Tartatt’s tall, dead, snags, on a fence post or sitting on the roof of one of the nesting boxes. In general, it is one of the most common hawks in North America.

The red-tailed hawk is a buteo, which is defined as a medium to large hawk with broad wings, a robust body and a short tail. Buteos usually hunt from a perch or from the air. They wait patiently and then drop down suddenly on an unsuspecting vole or rabbit. Its wing span is about 4 feet. It is 19 inches in length, and weighs just over 2 pounds.

There is considerable variation in this hawk’s plumage which can cause some confusion when attempting to identify it. However, the red tail of the adult bird is usually present. There are other subspecies of the Red-tail, but they tend to be typical of the region in which they are found. The one described in this article is typical of what we seen on the Refuge and the Peninsula.

Red-tails in the sunset are a sight to behold. They may be seen soaring over open fields, slowly turning in circles on their round, broad wings. To see them and their glowing red tail in the sunset will bring you joy. Look for them!



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