Order: Falconiformes, Family: Accipitridae
Appearance/Behavior: This well-known hawk (45 – 65 cm) has rather variable plumage. In the light phase (illustrated above, representing the only individual of the species encountered), the medium brown head (dark blue arrow) contrasts with the darker brown of the back (red arrow) and wings. The upper surface of the tail is rusty brown (light blue arrow). The underside shows a dark brown patagial area on the leading edge of the wing (yellow arrow). Brown streaks form a band across the lighter background of the breast and belly. It is difficult to tell for certain, but image 9 of 10 (well-defined image below) and its close up to right above, suggest that the bird may be repositioning its grip on a prey item captured prior to the first image in the sequence, implying that this hawk may be an incidental compost pile visitor.
Relative Frequency of Visitation in Study: A very rare visitor, with only a single encounter (recorded in several consecutive images).
Seasonal Activity: Although this species is a year-round resident in the study area, its sole encounter was in late summer.
Daily Activity: A single diurnal encounter.
Similar Species: Two other species encountered in the project that bear some similarity to the red-tailed hawk are its congener, the red-shouldered hawk, and the turkey vulture. The red-tail frequents more open habitats than the forest-dwelling red-shouldered hawk, and therefore may not regularly enter the immediate vicinity of the compost piles in this experiment. The red-tailed hawk is slightly larger than the red-shouldered and lacks its rusty shoulder, fine orange-white striping on the breast, and substantial black and white tail banding. The turkey vulture’s bare head sets it apart from the red-tailed hawk. Another congener of the red-tailed hawk occurs in the vicinity of the study site, but has not been encountered at the piles: the broad-winged hawk (Buteo platyterus), a forest inhabitant. The broad-wing has a more uniform orange brown chest and distinctive wide, white and black tail banding that are lacking in the red-tailed hawk.