North and Central America


Desert, open and wooded areas and edges of forests, tropical rain forest, and urban areas.

Local residents

Red-tailed hawks are common in San Diego County and throughout North America, whether perched on a pole, soaring overhead, or just a distant, high-pitched "kkeeer..." heard from beyond the trees. These raptors, or birds of prey, have keen eyesight, binocular vision, powerful talons for grabbing prey, and a sharp beak. They are one of the largest North American hawk species and are commonly seen flying over rural areas from coast to coast.

Color conscious

Wide variations in color and pattern can be found in different regions of North and Central America, but all adult red-tailed hawks have the copper-colored tail that gives them their common name. From nearly white to black, these raptors range from Alaska to Panama and from California to the West Indies. Red-tails living in San Diego County have a cocoa-colored back and buff underside with brown and black stripes.

The first red-tailed hawks were identified in Jamaica, West Indies. This is how the bird gets its species name, “jamaicensis.”
Ferruginous hawks and red-tailed hawks share the title of largest hawks in North America.
While most birds have no sense of smell, some scientists believe that hawks may have some olfactory ability.
Red-tailed hawk eggshells are tinted green on the inside.
The powerful cry of a red-tailed hawk is the same cry used in TV commercials depicting bald eagles. Advertisers feel the hawk's voice sounds more regal and eagle-like than the eagle's!
Other names for the red-tailed hawk are chicken-hawk and Harlan’s hawk.

Both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have red-tailed hawks. Some came to us after being injured in the wild. They all serve as animal ambassadors, meeting guests up close and making appearances in shows and on television. You may meet one up close during a Keeper Talk at the Safari Park or during the Backstage Pass program at the Zoo.

While common and even numerous in North America, red-tailed hawks, like all wildlife, are vulnerable to hunters, loss of habitat, environmental toxins, and, especially for young hawks, cars. Yet red-tailed hawks are beneficial for rodent and grasshopper control and are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

The preservation of wild places, whether plains or meadows, vast forests or city parks, can provide hunting and nesting sites for these and many other wild creatures.

You can help us bring bird species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.