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Natural History

Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family in the Falconiformes order, which consists of diurnal (active during the day) birds of prey. Like other birds of prey, the females are usually larger than the males; this is called sexual dimorphism. The female can hunt for larger prey, such as rabbits, while the male hunts for smaller prey, such as mice. This way, they do not compete with each other and can maximize their opportunities. Maymont has three species of hawk: the red-tailed hawk, the red-shouldered hawk and the broad-winged hawk.

The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the most common and widespread American member of the genus Buteo, which also includes the red-shouldered hawk. They are carnivorous and opportunistic feeders, eating mostly small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Males and females look alike, but the females are slightly larger. Adult red-tailed hawks range from 18 to 25 inches tall, with a wingspan of approximately four feet. One unique characteristic of the red-tailed hawk is their monogamous nature. They will mate with the same hawk for many years and will only take a new mate when their original mate dies. The first red-tailed hawk arrived at Maymont in 1993 after it was hit by a car and deemed incapable of surviving in the wild. Maymont’s other red-tailed hawk arrived in 2008 after also being hit by a car and suffering permanent loss of one eye.

Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) are distinguished by their red “shoulder” that is visible when they are perched. Adults have a brownish head, a reddish chest, a pale belly with reddish bars, and tail marked with narrow white bars. The red-shouldered hawk is leaner than the red-tailed hawk and considered a medium-sized hawk. A mature adult’s wingspan will range between 38 to 42 inches. These hawks do well in areas with the barred owl because they are diurnal, so they do not directly compete for food. Maymont has two red-shouldered hawks that came to us from licensed rehabilitators. The first arrived in 2009 with a permanently damaged wing and the second arrived in 2012 after having to have an eye removed. Both are suspected to have obtained their injuries from being hit by cars. Being migratory birds, it is important to note that we have permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to possess and put these birds on exhibit.

Broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus) are small hawks that spend a great deal of their lives migrating over long distances. During the summer, they are distributed throughout eastern North America and as far west as British Columbia and Texas. They then migrate south to winter in the neotropics from Mexico to southern Brazil. As they journey through these long distances, they follow mountain ranges that create updrafts. Broad-winged hawks utilize these winds to maximize their ability to soar while conserving energy.

Buteo jamaicensis, Buteo lineatus, Buteo platypterus



Small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians

1-2 lbs, 1-1.5 ft tall, 3-4 ft wingspan

Forests, swamps, marshes, deserts, grasslands, urban and rural areas of the U.S.

Fun Facts

  • Red-tailed hawks are large hawks and are the most common and widespread hawk in Virginia.
  • The cry of the red-tailed hawk is used in movies for almost every other eagle and hawk.
  • Young red-tailed hawks are duller, more streaked, and lack the rust-colored tail of adults; they are distinguished from red-shouldered hawks by their stocky build, broader, more rounded wings, and white chest.
  • Red-tailed hawks get their burnt-orange tail with the first molt, in the early summer of their second year.
  • Hawk feathers are not silent like owl feathers.
  • Red-shouldered hawks hunt by watching quietly from a low perch and then dropping down quickly to capture prey such as snakes and frogs.
  • Maymont is home to two red-tailed hawks. One came to live at Maymont from Brook Run Animal Clinic after he was hit by a car and was deemed unable to survive in the wild. The other came to Maymont from the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, after he was also hit by a car and his right wing was unable to function due to the fractures from the accident.
  • Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) are medium-sized hawks that are identifiable from their red “shoulder”, which is visible when they are perched.
  • Maymont is home to a red-shouldered hawk who came to us from the Carolina Raptor Center after having an eye removed.
  • Broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus) are small hawks that migrate over long distances, from North America to Mexico and Brazil. Broad-winged hawks follow mountain ranges as they migrate, using the updraft winds to soar without flapping their wings, to conserve energy.
  • A great way to protect hawks in the wild is to not throw food waste out of car windows. Food attracts rodents to roadsides, which in turn attract birds of prey. Many birds are injured by cars while trying to find food on roadsides.

Adopt an Animal

Did you know it takes $500,000 each year to feed and care for the animals at Maymont? Your support of the Maymont Adopt an Animal Program helps provide food, care and enrichment to keep the rescued animals active, healthy and engaged.