Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bird Watch: June 22

The Red Tailed Hawk. Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

June 22, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Claim to fame: Film directors use the shriek of Red Tailed Hawks to represent Eagles in movies, as Eagle cries are guttural and uninspiring.

As a bird lover, I was pleased to see the excellent photo earlier this year of the Red Tailed Hawk, by photographer Heather Wolf, author of Birding at the Bridge, featured in the Brooklyn Eagle’s “Brooklyn Bird Watch” series. The Scientific name is Buteo jamaicensis.

Photo by Heather Wolf

The Red Tailed Hawk can be found all over the United States since it is the most common hawk in North America. As a former Brooklyn resident now living in Florida, I remember one morning here, when I was having my coffee, with camera ready, sitting in a lawn chair patiently watching the birdfeeder I had built. Suddenly the birds vanished, and the Blue Jays, Mockingbirds, and Sparrows in the surrounding trees and bushes starting making lots of noise at the same time, I mean lots of noise, sounding alarms full of panic and warning. And then just as suddenly, everything went silent.

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I presumed something was wrong, and then realized what the problem was: I heard the classic, super high-pitched shriek of a Red Tailed Hawk overhead, piercing the calm summer air. While I sat for a few moments putting two and two together, I turned and there it was, already perched high up on a lamp post on the edge of our parking lot, a young Red Tailed Hawk probably looking for rodents or squirrels. Red Tailed Hawks don’t attack the smaller “neighborhood birds” unless easier land-based prey is scarce. Understandably, my neighborhood birds weren’t waiting around at my feeder to find out if any of them would become a meal of last resort for the raptor that day. 

I think this hawk had probably spotted one of several squirrels that frequent our landscape. 

On the internet I found some interesting things about The Red Tailed Hawk that I did not know. The Red Tail is the most common hawk used for professional Falconry in the United States. 

Its eyesight is 8 times stronger than that of humans, while its “HD” reaches almost a mile. 

That fierce shriek it makes has become famous as an audio effect by film directors. Even when you see an Eagle on the movie screen, what you hear is the shriek of the Red Tail, which has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound. At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.

Also interesting: a male and female Red Tailed Hawk will hunt together as a team. The female will stay on one side of a tree while the male lets a squirrel know it’s hunting on the other side of the tree. When the squirrel, perhaps thinking it can escape, tries to get away on the blind side of the tree the female pounces, and so the question of lunch is resolved. 

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