Red Tail Aerodynamics 101
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Have you ever watched a Red-tailed Hawk soaring hundreds of feet in the air and wondered how the bird does it? What special attributes does this bird have that make it such an accomplished, and elegant, flier?
Red Tails are superbly designed to do what they do best, which is to soar almost effortlessly. They are pretty big birds, weighing around three pounds — about the size of a frying chicken — and they have evolved into almost perfect fliers despite that mass. Ounce for ounce, a Red Tail expends far fewer calories while airborne than do a lot of smaller birds.
One of their secrets to success is their enormous wings and broad tails. A Red-tailed Hawk has a wing span exceeding four feet and it can expose a huge amount of surface area to the air currents in order to attain lift.
Another secret is their exquisitely streamlined and aerodynamic design. There are literally no surfaces on this bird that create drag while it is in flight. Have you ever noticed that modern passenger jets have upturned wingtips? These are called “winglets” and they serve to break up turbulence while the planes are in flight, reducing air resistance and making them more efficient. Now, look at this next bird’s extended wingtips.
It’s the same feature; the upswept wingtips also function as winglets, breaking drag and enabling the bird to fly more efficiently. Notice also this Red Tail’s torpedo-shape body and tail design while in flight. Nothing protrudes on this bird.
Paradoxically, Red Tails are supremely lazy. Most of the time they’re not in the air. They love to perch, sometimes for hours at a time, scanning the countryside and doing nothing in particular. Their hunting style is opportunistic. A Red Tail would never chase down another bird in flight. No, these hunters wait until something small and terrestrial — like a ground squirrel — comes along and makes the mistake of not looking up.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 400, “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/1600.