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12.3: Buteo jamaicensis: Red-tailed Hawk

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Common Name

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Chickenhawk
  • Buzzard Hawk
  • Hen Hawk
  • Mouse Hawk
  • Red Hawk


Buteo jamaicensis, the red-tailed hawk, has brown wings and an orangish red tail. It has a wingspan of about 3.7 ft. The red-tailed hawk’s call is used in Hollywood as the symbol of power. “Red-tailed” refers to the brick-red tail of adult hawks. Hawk comes from the base word hab, meaning “to seize or take hold of”. The word evolved into Middle English hauk from which now is said “hawk”. Buteo is a Latin term for falcon or hawk and jamaicensis is in reference to Jamaica, where the bird was first scientifically studied.

The complete taxonomic classification is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiform
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Buteo
  • Species: B. jamaicensis


The red-tailed hawk lives in southern Canada and the northern and southern United States. It lives in both urban and rural areas.


Cell Biology

The red-tailed hawk has eukaryotic cells. Some parts of eukaryotic cells include a nucleus, cell membrane, cytoplasm, ribosome, and other organelles. The cell membrane is the border of the cell. Ribosomes makes proteins.


The earliest known fossil of birds dates back to somewhere around the Jurassic period, over 130 million years ago. These fossils, named Archaeopteryx lithographic due to the fact that it was found in stone, resembled reptiles in their skeleton structure, but were covered in feathers.


The environment of the red-tailed hawk usually includes trees, cliffs, small animals, mountain lions, bobcats and other common plants and animals. The red-tailed hawk preys on small rodents and mammals such as rabbits and mice.

Anatomy and Physiology

Red-tailed hawks usually don’t become sexually active until their third year of life. Females can breed earlier and males often a little later than this. The red-tailed hawk builds a large stick nest, often in a tall tree or on a cliff ledge.


The red-tailed hawk can be aggressive when defending territories. They frequently chase off other hawks, eagles, and owls. Courting birds fly with legs hanging beneath them, or chase and swoop after each other. Mated pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies.




  • Christopher Nichelson
  • Drake Borman
  • Sydney Fortune

Supervising Faculty

  • Amy Huff Shah


  • Museum School, San Diego, California


  • Published prior to review.

Edit History

  • Created: April 5, 2013
  • Version 1.0 submitted to CK-12: July 8, 2013
  • CK-12 edits: in progress


  • Middle School (grades 6-8)

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Date Created:
Jul 08, 2013
Last Modified:
Jan 30, 2016
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