Category Archives: Hawk Like Birds

Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura

General: The Turkey Vulture, the most widespread of the New World Vultures, is found throughout most of the Americas (North and South). In certain areas it is called “buzzard” and “Turkey buzzard”. The Turkey Vulture received its common name from the resemblance of the adult’s bald red head and its dark plumage to that of the male Wild Turkey.1 Its life expectancy in the wild ranges upward of 16 years, with a captive life span of over 30 years being possible.2

Turkey Vultures breed in March and into late spring. Eggs are generally laid in a protected location such as a cliff, a cave, a rock crevice, a burrow, inside a hollow tree, or in a thicket. Clutch Size is typically 1 – 3 eggs that are 2.6” – 3” long and 1.7” – 2.1” wide. The eggs are cream-colored, with brown or lavender spots. Incubation is 38 – 41 days. Chicks fledge between 65 – 90 days.

The Turkey Vulture, like most other vultures, has very few vocalization capabilities. Because it lacks a syrinx, it can only utter hisses and grunts. It usually hisses when it feels threatened. Grunts are commonly heard from hungry young and from adults in their courtship display.

Their sense of smell is incredibly unique in the avian world and they are particularly good at picking up the scent of ethyl mercaptan (a gas produced by animals beginning to decay). The olfactory lobe of a turkey vulture is well developed when compared to other avian species which helps allows a turkey vulture to actually detect odors up to 12 miles away.3

Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a shallow V-shape while soaring and riding thermals.

Identification: Turkey Vultures are large dark birds, 25” long with long, broad wings that measure approximately 72” from tip to tip. The Turkey Vulture’s head is red and unfeathered. The yellowish bill is hooked. The plumage is dark brown except for paler flight feathers, appearing black and gray. They have short, thick legs

Habitat: With its substantial distribution throughout the Americas, the Turkey Vulture is a generalist in its habitat choices and can be found in open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrub lands, pastures, and deserts. They typically like to stay in areas with open land with nearby areas such as forests for roosting. In the northeastern US, Turkey Vultures can be seen riding thermals over open farmland, the Adirondacks and along lake and ocean shorelines. They are particularly noticeable along roadsides and at landfills.

Territory: Generally, Turkey Vultures can be found from Southern Canada to the southern tip of South America. Certain of its populations do migrate. In upstate New York, Turkey Vultures show up in early Spring and generally leave in early winter.  These northern birds may migrate as far south as South America. In the southern United States the Turkey Vulture is a permanent resident.

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion which can be almost any animal – mammal, reptile, fish, etc. Turkey Vultures almost never attack living prey.











Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo Jamaicensis

Red-Tailed Hawk


The Red-tailed Hawk is a common bird of prey that can be found throughout the contiguous 48 states, Canada into Alaska. These large hawks are commonly seen sitting in trees alongside roads and highways near large fields bordered by tree line.

The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk,"

“Red-tailed Hawks are the most common and widespread hawk in North America. Red-tail numbers have increased significantly as a result of forest fragmentation that creates the mosaic of interspersed wooded and open areas they prefer. In some areas, this increase has been at the expense of Red-shouldered, Ferruginous, and Swainson’s Hawks.” (1)

Along with the American Kestrel, the Red-tail Hawk is the most commonly captured raptor for falconry in the United States.

Red-tailed Hawks typically put their nests in the crowns of tall trees, cliffs or high on man-made structures where they have a commanding view of the landscape. Both male and female will help in building the nest. The female lays 1 to 3 brown spotted white eggs. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. The incubation period is between 28–35 days. The chicks are born helpless and need the parents to provide food and protection. The chicks fledge in 42 days


Red-tailed Hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. Red-Tailed hawks are 17”–22” long with a wingspan of 44”-53”. They weight 24-46 oz (1 ½ to 3 lbs.) – females are up to 25% larger than males.

Red-tailed Hawks are most often seen soaring high above the ground, looking for food.


The Red-tailed Hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas.


The Red-tailed Hawk lives throughout the North American continent, in Central America, and in the West Indies. except in areas of unbroken forest or the high arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


Red-tailed Hawks that breed in the northern parts of Canada and Alaska migrate south in late fall. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range


Red-tailed Hawks are carnivores and eat small mammals, such as rodent, mice, rabbits, etc. They also eat birds (I was once fortunate enough to witness a Red-tail kill a pigeon  in Troy, NY), reptiles, fish or large insects. They will eat fresh carrion.




American Kestrel – Falco Sparverius

General: I think the American Kestrel, also known as Sparrow Hawk, is the most inconspicuous American bird of prey. They often sit on phone/power lines and unless you look closely they will appear like any other Jay sized bird. The only really distinguishing aspect of the American Kestrel’s silhouette is its beak – close to its face and hooked. If you stop and look, you will be surprised at how many you see. The American Kestrel is the most abundant falcon in North America.

Kestrels nest in cavities in trees, cliffs, buildings, and other structures. The female usually lays 4 – 7 eggs white to cream in color with brown or grey splotching. The chicks hatch in between 29-31 days and are helpless. They fledge in 30-31 days

American Kestrel - Falco SparveriusThe American Kestrel basic vocalization is killy-killy-killy at times a rapid series – klee, klee, klee, klee can be heard. The American Kestrel is a common bird to be used in falconry – in areas it may be one of a limited number available to the beginner.

Identification: At about the size of a Jay, the American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. They are roughly 9” – 12” and have a wingspan of up to 21”. They weigh approximately 3 – 6 oz. Males have blue-grey wings with black spots and white undersides with black barring. The back is rusty, with barring on the lower half. The belly and flanks are white with black spotting. The tail is also rusty, with a white or rusty tip and a black subterminal band. The back and wings of the female American Kestrel are rusty with dark brown barring. The undersides of the females are creamy to buff with heavy brown streaking. The tail is rusty with numerous narrow dark black bars. The wings are moderately long, fairly narrow, and taper to a point. When in flight their silhouette is classic falcon – just mini-sized.

Habitat: American Kestrels are found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, meadows, deserts,Sparrow Hawk - american Kestrel and other open to semi-open regions. They can also be found in towns, cities and suburban areas.

Territory: The American Kestrel has an extensive range. It breeds from Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout the USA, into central Mexico and the Caribbean down though South America to Tierra del Fuego.

Most Kestrels breeding in Alaska and Northern Canada will migrate down into British Columbia, New England and south in the winter.

Food: American Kestrels feed largely on small animals such as grasshoppers, insects, lizards, mice, small snakes and small mammals and small birds – House Sparrows are commonly taken. I have seen them attack Chickadees and Juncos at me backyard feeder. Prey is almost always caught on the ground rather than in the air like other falcons such as the Peregrine.