Red-Tailed Hawk Story

by Dan Weisz

In general, raptors don’t perch together ever, even with mated pairs.  Other than Harris’s Hawks, this behavior is not common, so when I saw this pair along River Road in Tucson I had to stop.  My hunch is that we’ve seen one or both of these birds in prior photos- I know I’ve sent pictures of a Red-tailed Hawk on the same power pole before.  Red-tails are the most common hawk in the United States and you can see them on telephone poles as you drive along the highway.  They live in a variety of habitats and have a very wide prey base.  That stocky figure is easy to pick out, even from a distance.  In these photos, you can see their rusty red tail and the belly band on each bird.  Females are generally larger than males, so I assume the bird on the right is the female.  I’m not sure what her partner seems to be saying, but they remained on this perch for several minutes. 

Looking for prey, or just had a disagreement??  Definitely a ‘balanced’ look.

And at times, they turned this way.  They pretty much continued looking in all directions for a while.  I don’t know how long they had been on that pole doing this before I arrived.

Finally, the bird on the left, the male, flew off into a distant eucalyptus tree.  After a few seconds, the female flew into a low mesquite tree.  I wasn’t sure what she was doing, as the tree certainly did not offer prey or a great perch for hunting, much less a stable base to perch on.

She would look around, peck at a branch, look around, hop to a different perch, and continued this behavior for 5-10 minutes.  With her wings raised, you can see the dark patagial marks along the leading edge of her under-wings, a well known ID for red-tailed hawks.   When you see a hawk soaring overhead and it displays dark patagial marks, you’re looking at a red-tail.

She turned in the other direction, hopping around and grabbing at branches.  I still wondered why.

And then that “aha” moment- she was shopping for just the right twig for her nest.  Below, she has the perfect twig in her beak.  Its shadow runs across her chest.

She’s ready to take off, looking straight towards the eucalyptus tree her mate is on, and begins to raise her wings……….

And now very ready for take-off!!!!!  Notice that her legs are fully extended now?  In the shot above, she was still crouching down.  Imagine the power when she pulls those wings down at once.

…..heading towards her partner in the eucalyptus tree across River Road.

Just before she passed overhead, wings aligned with her twig…..

I hope they will be successful building their nest.  Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and generally remain in mated pairs for life.  They will often re-use a nest from year to year, with some touch-up work each year.  She landed on a large branch right next to her partner but I could not see a nest in the tree.  Rest assured I’ll be keeping an eye on them hoping to have updates for you throughout the spring!