A closer look at Red-tailed Hawks in the Ottawa/Gatineau area

By Jon Ruddy

The Red-tailed Hawk is the quintessential hawk – it’s big, powerful, graceful, and beautiful.

Eastern Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis ssp borealis)

Adult Eastern Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Brenda McRae

Adult Eastern Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Brenda McRae

Our local breeder, the Eastern Red-tailed Hawk is a familiar sight along roadsides. Anyone who has ever driven along the 416 has most likely seen these gorgeous birds “teed up” along stretches of highway where plenty of rodents can be found in adjacent fields. Eastern Red-tails can be seen year round here in the Ottawa/Gatineau area. They breed in a variety of habitats but tend to be most associated with open areas, such as fallow fields or agricultural areas with nearby trees for nesting.

Identifying features:

  • Big, stocky hawk with long, wide wings, and a long, broad tail (both juveniles and adults)
  • Patagial bars along the leading edge of its wings (both juveniles and adults)
  • Belly band across lower breast (both juveniles and adults)
  • Brick red tail visible at great distances (adults)

Northern Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis ssp abieticola)
In early to mid-October, when the leaves are changing colour and the air is beginning to get crisp, Northern Red-tailed Hawksquite unlike our local breeders the Eastern Red-tails, are on the move southward. Northern Red-tails are heavily-marked with a darker base color, showing blackish belly bands composed of globular markings; they often show well-marked throats, streaking on their upper chests, and very thick patagial bars.

Adult Northern Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Jerry Liguori  

Adult Northern Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Jerry Liguori

Northern Red-tails are presumed to breed exclusively throughout northern spruce-fir forests and are also thought to be strongly migratory, wintering, principally, from the Great Lakes eastward throughout the northern states and southern Ontario.

Northern Red-tailed Hawk blog
Renowned North American hawk expert, Jerry Liguori, and I have teamed up to create a blog dedicated to the study of Northern Red-tailed Hawks. The site is filled to the brim with information on the identification and natural history of these enigmatic Red-tails. We’d love to have you drop on by! Here’s the link: http://northernredtails.wordpress.com/.

OFNC 2014 Greenland Road Hawkwatch
In mid-March 2014, a small group of fearless birders met along Greenland Road to watch for hawks. It was only a hair above one degree – so cccooold! We tallied a big, fat, zero for hawks and eagles. I thought to myself “well, there goes THAT idea; they’ll never come back.” Somehow…people continued to show up, and in increasing numbers, although I couldn’t help but notice a direct correlation between observers and temperature! Over the following 5 weeks, we had some laughs, saw hundreds of Turkey Vultures, scores of hawks, and tallied 12 Bald Eagles and 2 Golden Eagles.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. 2014 Greenland Road Hawkwatch details here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1480918358796602/

Postcard from Greenland Road, Ottawa, Ontario: Good times were had by all! Osprey photo: Brent Eades

Postcard from Greenland Road, Ottawa, Ontario: Good times were had by all! Osprey photo: Brent Eades

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