During the third week in February and on into early March, red-tailed hawks arrive and begin their nest-building duties. Some return to the same nesting site each year. Only a few remain in Minnesota during the winter; most others migrate to southern states. They are summer residents throughout the state, except in the coniferous forests of the northeast and north-central regions, and one of the most numerous of the breeding raptors.

Soaring in wide circles with little movement of its wings, the adult red-tailed hawk can be recognized by the bright reddish-chestnut color on the upper surface of the tail that is fully extended like an open fan. The reddish tail can be seen when the bird dips and turns to bring its upper half into view. This reddish-colored tail is not acquired until the bird is a little more than a year old. Until then it is immature and does not mate, and so it is nearly 2 years old when it does.

The red-tailed hawk nests in woodlands but feeds in open country. The large nest is made of sticks and smaller twigs. Two eggs are usually laid and have an incubation period of about 28 days. Since the red-tail's food consists mainly of rodents, it does very little damage to domestic poultry or wild birds.