Wind (current)

Redtailed Hawk

The most likely to be seen Buteo(large,long winged soaring hawks) in our area and at migration time at Rosetta(elsewhere at migration its the Broadwinged Hawk) is the Redtailed Hawk. Redtailed Hawks average a 120cm(49inch) wingspan and a length of 45cm-60cm(19-25inches),with females being as much as 1/3 larger then males. Aside from the obvious rusty(red) tail,which in flight isnt that obvious sometimes,there are a few things to look for to call it a Redtail. Its a good idea to really study Redtails,as they are quite abundant and use them to compare to other species of Buteo and smaller hawks. Distinct to the Redtails is a bellyband,which even at long distances is visible. Perched roadside birds U can often see the white on the upper chest like a beacon.The head is dark,the chest white/creamy coloured,the breast below the bellyband is streaked with brown,underneath it can appear very light,the back is mottled brown and white. The tail of an adult is rusty coloured,while a juvenile is striped brown and white. Also very noticable and with other signs are the "commas" on the wings at "the wrist". These are usually very dark on Redtailed Hawks. Albinoism is most common among Redtailed Hawks(among raptors).
In flight,the Redtail soars with a very slight dihedral,the tail somewhat short and wide. Its flap is usually very strong and definite. When gliding if U watch enough Redtails the shape is very distinctive,though it can give U many looks. While several raptors can hover,Redtails are the one that most commonly kites. Kitting is when the bird sort of hovers but without moving its wings at all. It stays in one place in the sky,adjusting using its tail. Ive viewed a Redtail in one place for 20 minutes.
CHEATS:Assume in our area that large raptors are Redtailed Hawks. Look for characteristics to confirm Redtails or count them out. Looking quickly at the there a dihedral or slight V in the wings? Is there a bellyband(white chest and brown streaking underneath it)? Is the tail red?(juveniles tails are not red) Does the bird have strong "commas" at the wrist? If U can see a few of those signs you can be confident it is a Redtailed Hawk. If U go through that list each time it becomes almost an instant ID.
Learn to ID using elimination,if U go through the list of 15 raptors seen in southern Ontario,it becomes automatic,as does looking for the above mentioned clues. Example: U see a raptor..a reasonably large one. So in saying large,U have eliminated Kestrel,Merlin,Sharpie and Coopers right away. Since Redtails are the most likely buteo,keep them in. Also in are Turkey Vulture,Osprey,Roughlegged Hawk,Broadwinged Hawk,Bald and Golden Eagle. Depending on the time of the migration season,U can eliminate reasonably safely some species. Most Turkey Vultures move in October. Broadwinged Hawks move in a very small window around September 11th(sadly easy to remember date) for about a week to 10 days. Golden Eagles and Roughlegged Hawks move late in the migration calander,usually late October or November. After September 30 few Osprey are still migrating. Bald Eagles are massive,flying with level wings.Leaving...the Redtail. This identification through elimination can be done with all families of birds and sizes. U can really narrow your choices quickly if U remember the distinctive marks,size and wingshapes.
When viewing a perched bird,particularily in the winter,note where and where in the tree/bush the bird is perched. Most birds perched along highways in the winter are Redtailed Hawks. In trees,a Redtail usually sits out on a branch to the side(example like at 3 o'clock),where as a Roughlegged Hawk(winter visitors) sits on the very top of the tree/bush. I hope these hints help.