Wildlife Spotlight: Red Tailed Hawks

The red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is North America’s most common hawk, and can most certainly be found in the Santa Monica Mountains. They have pale bellies and dark back feathers. The tail is golden cinnamon colored, it’s not as bright red as most might think! They can be easily identified by their broad rounded wings and their shorter tails. 

It is an opportunistic feeder. Its most common prey are small mammals, including squirrels and rabbits, but will also eat smaller birds, fish, or reptiles. Interestingly, the red tailed hawk and the great horned owl feeds off similar prey, so competition between the two birds often occurs during twilight when both species are out hunting. You can often find a red tailed hawk standing alone atop trees and telephone poles. When the hawks mate, they pair up and fly in large circles. The male will dive down and then climb back up to where it can perform the circling dance again to try and impress his mate. Then it will grab another bird with its talons and dive back down. Red tailed hawks may mate for life. Females can lay up to five eggs yearly and the eggs, incubated by both sexes, incubate for about four to five weeks. After the young hatch, they leave the nest about six weeks later.

Though they mate for life, red tailed hawks are not social creatures. They won’t hunt in populated areas, like a Coopers Hawks or a sharp-shinned hawk. They favor open fields and mountain habitats, like our very own Headwaters Corner. Mountains Restoration Trust staff have spotted quite a few red tailed hawks circling our property, likely hunting small mammals like squirrels that hide out in our trees.

Want to know more about these graceful predators? Check out the resources below!


“Red-Tailed Hawk.” National Geographic Photo Ark, National Geographic, 11 Nov. 2010,

“Red-Tailed Hawk.” All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2015,

“Raptors of California.” California Department of Fish and Wildlife.Gov, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2016,