A Cedar Rapids resident brought us these spectacular photos taken in her yard of a young red-tailed hawk. She brought them to us for identification, thinking the hawk was too large to be a red-tail but Naturalist Jan Aiels identified it as an immature red-tailed hawk. Jan tells us red-tailed hawks are one of Iowa’s largest and most common buteos seen soaring over fields and pastures. Adults have a distinctive rusty red tail. The hawk in the photo is an immature red-tail that will grow its rusty red tail by the time it is three years old and mature. Both females and male red-tails look alike. If you are fortunate to see them together, the female will be the larger of the pair. Immature hawks often appear larger than mature hawks as they have extra layers of feathers to help them stay aloft as they learn to fly and hunt. As they mature, they shed out these “training wheels” and become the sleek, aerodynamic hunting experts we see throughout the country.
Hawks build a 28-38 inch nest of sticks in the top branches of either deciduous or pine trees. A mated pair will use the same nest year after year, adding a new layer of sticks each spring. The nest is lined with the bark of cedar, grapevine, moss or sprigs of pine. Three to five eggs are laid which incubate for 28-35 days. The young hawks fledge or leave the nest in four to six weeks and become independent from their parents in mid- to late summer. It appears that this beautiful immature already has excellent hunting skills! Our homeowner reports the hawk allowed her to get quite close and was not aggressive, almost posing as she photographed it. I can see why…he/she’s a beauty! Thanks for sharing your photos with us!