During this time of winter of mid- to late February and on into early March, I have noticed that red-tailed hawks arrive and begin their nest-building duties.

Their big nests are made of sticks and smaller twigs. Two eggs are usually laid. They have an incubation period of about 28 days.

Only a few of the raptors remain in Minnesota during the winter; most others migrate to Southern states. Yet some return to the same nesting site each year.

The red-tailed hawk is a summer resident throughout most of the state, except in the coniferous forests of the northeast and north-central regions. It is one of Minnesota’s most numerous of the breeding raptors.

Soaring in wide circles with little movement of its wings, the adult red-tailed hawk is recognizable by the bright reddish-chestnut color on the upper surface of the tail, 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 over 1 year old. It is immature and does not mate until it is nearly 2 years old.

While the red-tailed hawk nests in woodlands, it feeds in open country. Because the red-tail’s food consists mainly of rodents, it does very little damage to domestic poultry or wild birds.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.