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Today's Family Magazine

Getting to know red-tailed hawks

Lake Metroparks Animal Ambassador Oliver (Photo by Dave Mills)

By Andy Avram, Lake Metroparks Interpretive Manager

It’s an eagle!  It’s a vulture!  It’s a pterodactyl!  No, it’s a red-tailed hawk!  

If you have ever seen a large bird of prey on TV, then you’ve heard the shrill scream of a red-tailed hawk. Their distinctive and powerful call is widely used in film whenever a large flying bird is featured. 

Here in Ohio, we can readily hear this raptor’s scream as it is our most common hawk. They frequent areas with a mixture of forests and fields, and is the hawk most likely to be seen along the freeway.  When seen, adult birds can readily be identified by their rust-colored tail, brown back with a white “V” and a white belly with a brown “belt.” Juvenile hawks are brown on the back with a brown speckled white belly. Their tails are banded in brown and white, making them easily confused with other juvenile hawk species. Typical of birds of prey, the females are larger than the males, with average weights for females around two and a half pounds and males around two pounds.

Red-tailed hawks feed on a wide variety of small animals, with mice and squirrels making up the bulk of their diet. They will also opportunistically feed on birds (in fact, we once had one at Penitentiary Glen that regularly hunted the mallards around the pond). In the winter, these raptors will eat carrion—especially from dead deer. In the summer, they feed heavily on snakes. A dead hawk found in Portage County in 1932 had 15 snakes in its stomach! 

Oliver came to the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center in October 2007. His ankle was badly broken, likely due to being hit by a car. Unfortunately, his ankle never healed properly and prevented him from being able to catch and kill his own food in the wild. He then became an Animal Ambassador, but unlike most of our other Animal Ambassadors Oliver is fully capable of flight. His name stemmed from his constant begging for food when younger, just like Oliver Twist. 

Lake Metroparks Animal Ambassadors represent a variety of native Ohio wildlife species. These residents are under the permanent care of the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center staff because their injuries prohibit independent survival. Animal Ambassadors allow us to educate the public about conservation. We invite you to support our mission of nature education, conservation and stewardship through "adopting" one of our Animal Ambassadors. For more information visit

For more information about Lake Metroparks' wildlife rehabilitation program visit