Red-tailed Hawks typically put their nests in the crowns of tall trees where they have a commanding view of the landscape. They may also nest on a cliff ledge or on artificial structures such as window ledges and billboard platforms.
Both members build the nest, or simply refurbish one of the nests they’ve used in previous years. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across. The inner cup is lined with bark strips, fresh foliage, and dry vegetation. Construction takes 4-7 days.
White or buffy, blotched or speckled with buff, brown, or purple.
Condition at Hatching
Tiny and helpless, unable to raise head, and weighing about 2 ounces.
Mammals make up the bulk of most Red-tailed Hawk meals. Frequent victims include voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. The hawks also eat birds, including pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds; as well as snakes and carrion. Individual prey items can weigh anywhere from less than an ounce to more than 5 pounds.
Adults make a hoarse, screaming kee-eeeee-arr. It lasts 2-3 seconds and is usually given while soaring. During courtship, they also make a shrill chwirk, sometimes giving several of these calls in a row.more sounds
About the Nest
A Red-tailed Hawk pair has been nesting above Cornell University’s athletic fields since at least the 2012, making use of two different light towers for their nest sites. In 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2019 they used a tower near Fernow Hall, and in 2013, 2014, and 2016, they used the tower nearest Weill Hall. We installed cameras at both of these sites to get a better look at the intimate behavior of these well-known birds as they raise their young amid the bustle of a busy campus.
Big Red and Her Mates
The female, nicknamed “Big Red” in honor of her alma mater, is slightly larger, with a darker head, nape and throat, and is banded on her right leg. From banding records we know she was banded in nearby Brooktondale, New York, during her first autumn in 2003.
The male, Arthur, was named in honor of the founder of the Cornell Lab, Arthur A. Allen. He was first spotted on Cornell University campus as a fledgling in 2016. He is unbanded and has a paler chest, head, and nape than Big Red. The pair first spent time together in April 2017, after Big Red’s previous mate, Ezra, had died. The hawks completed their first breeding season together in 2018.
Big Red’s former mate, named Ezra after the co-founder of Cornell University, died in March 2017 (read about his legacy here). He and Big Red had raised successful broods every year from 2012–2016. He was a bit smaller and had golden-tawny feathers on his face and head. He also had a paler neck than the female. He was first banded in 2006 as an adult bird on Judd Falls Road near the Cornell campus.