Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk with Reddish Tail?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 

I wanted to recycle an old post from Uthabirders in regards to juvenile Red-tailed Hawks with reddish tails. I show examples in my books, but I wanted to point out the 3 birds in the photo above ("click" to enlarge). Note the juvenile bird on the left (©Tim Avery), it has one tail feather (left-center) that is shorter and the black sub-terminal band is slightly broader and bolder. The original feather fell out for whatever reason prematurely and the feather you see is a replaced feather. This newer feather has a bit of red, but is very similar in pattern and color to the rest of the tail. Most likely, this feather came in shortly after the bird fledged.

The bird in the middle (©Vic Berardi) has a few reddish feathers on the right-center of the tail. These reddish feathers have replaced a few juvenile feathers that came out for whatever reason (snared in a bush, etc.). However, these reddish feathers are the same color and pattern as adult feathers, meaning they most likely grew in well after fledging.

The bird on the right (©Jerry Liguori) has a complete set of juvenile tail feathers that happen to be reddish similar to those of adults. Juveniles of all races can show this, but it most common on borealis (Eastern race - which this bird is), and to a lesser extent Harlan’s and Western. This is the original set of feathers that came in during the nestling stage. The bird is a juvenile since it shows pale primary “panels”, a brown upperside with whitish mottling lacking any rufous tones, a pale eye, and the tail has juvenile-like banding. The underside photos confirm this as well.
Anonymous Dave Irons said...

Interesting to learn that the timing of feather replacement (in the case of untimely loss) affects whether the feather shows juvenile barring or the lack of it like an adult bird.

July 31, 2013 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Its thought to be hormonal whether they replace a lost feather with a juvenile-like one or a perfect adult feather. I had the opportunity to see this when rehabbing injured birds in the late 80's - early 90's.

Glad you like the blog David!

August 1, 2013 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

This is very interesting Jerry, I guess I will start looking even closer at the images I take of juvenile Red-tails!

August 1, 2013 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

That would be great Mia...and send me pics too, I love seeing your pics!!!!

August 1, 2013 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had my mitts on a couple of these birds (borealis). I wonder what the percentages are for the different races to show this juvenile trait. Vic's photo seems like a logical progression for a juvenile after losing its tail feathers. The bird on the left, however, is pretty darn cool and something I never thought of. Once again pal, you set the bar.


August 1, 2013 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...


I love you comments...and compliments! The bird on the left was photographed in November in UT, bird in middle in October in IL, and bird on right in September in PA years and years ago. Vic's bird must have run into something, who knows what?

August 1, 2013 at 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Justin Miller said...

How am I going to tell a young Red-tailed with a red tail from an adult now in flight? Never even thought I would have to look out for this!

August 1, 2013 at 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Good thing it is uncommon so don't worry too much about it. However, juveniles will still have the translucent primaries from below, lack a well-defined dark trailing edge to the wings, lack the rufous or buffy tone to the overall underside, show a plain brown head and upperside typically with whitish mottliong on the upperwings, and the pale primary area will be visible from above as well. Juveniles also have longer tails and slimmer wings than adults (even the wing beats are telling), but these shape traits can confuse birders, so don't use them alone unless very comfortable doing so!

August 1, 2013 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Cathy Sheeter said...

Just re-reading this thread to refresh my memory on what you said about it. I photographed a juvenile bird (appeared to be pure Eastern from what I could tell) with all red tail yesterday. I was momentarily confused since it had the longer tailed proportion of a juvenile, but the color of an adult bird (at a quick glance). Thanks, as always, for the informative posts. Photo of my bird (wish it was sharper) at:

November 17, 2013 at 6:55 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Cathy -- Excellent example of a juvenile with a reddish tail. Thanks for posting this!

November 17, 2013 at 7:13 AM  

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