Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 22 inches long

Red-tailed Hawk, USFWS photo by Beth JacksonThis large hawk (18-23 inches) is the raptor most likely to be seen in southern Arizona. Found in a variety of habitats including farmlands, native grasslands and open desert, it is often seen atop utility poles or soaring in circles high overhead. In flight the distinctive rufous tail can be seen from below. When perched, it can be identified by a pale breast with a speckled band. Its wings are broad and its tail is rounded and broad. When it is searching for prey, this hawk will hover in place, seeming to hang motionless on the wind. It preys mainly on rodents, and is a common resident year-round in rural areas of southern Arizona. Numbers increase during migration and in winter.

Red-tailed Hawk, USFWS photo by Lee Karney

Red-tailed Hawk with prey, USFWS photo by Lee Karney

Immature Red-tailed Hawk, photo by Lee Karney

Immature Red-tailed Hawk, USFWS photo by Lee Karney

According to desert expert Edmund C. Jaeger, large birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, and falcons are uncommonly successful in a desert habitat because they are able to get enough water for most of their needs from the body fluids of their prey--reptiles, birds, and small mammals. While these birds may drink water when it is available, they can easily get along without it.

For more information on desert birds:Red-tailed hawk on nest, USFWS photo by Jim Rorabaugh

Jaeger, Edmund C. Desert Wildlife. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1950, 1961. Excellent descriptions of desert birds and animals in an easygoing style which will appeal to readers of all ages.

_____________ The North American Deserts. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957.

Photos are from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Image Library. The close-up shot (upper) is by Beth Jackson, the hawk with prey photo and immature hawk photo are by Lee Karney. The red-tailed hawk on nest in saguaro is by Jim Rorabaugh.