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I was driving through farmlands recently when I encountered a pair of Red-tailed Hawks sitting side by side atop a utility pole. I thought that they were a charming couple.
These two birds are typical “southwestern” color variants of Red-tailed Hawks, with brown plumage on their heads, their backs, and outer wings, and pale breasts. The bird on the right is somewhat more colorfully marked than the one on the left, but both nevertheless show the typical plumage of Red Tails who live year-round in this part of the United States.
They clearly appear to be a mated pair. You’ll notice that the hawk on the right is much more robust looking than the one on the left. That’s typical of a female. With Red Tails, females are larger, and often substantially larger, than the males. That phenomenon carries the fancy sobriquet of “reverse sexual dimorphism.”
Only a few days previously, I had a similar encounter with another pair of Red-tailed Hawks.
In this instance the female member of the pair obviously is the rufous-colored bird on the left of the image. She’s much larger than her mate. Rufous Red Tails aren’t all that common in the southwestern United States, at least not during the spring and summer months. It’s likely, therefore, that the big female in this second image is a winter migrant. Quite likely, the male is as well. The pair may be “vacationing” in southern Arizona for a few months before returning to their breeding territory somewhere else.
Red-tailed Hawks form long-term relationships, often mating for life. During parts of the year they may live apart, resuming their pair bonds starting about now. In time, these hawks will pick a nesting site or, more likely, begin to refurbish a nest that they’ve used in previous years. The local pair will mate in few weeks and the female will begin incubating her eggs in March or thereabouts, typically laying from one to three eggs, depending on how well-nourished she is. The young will hatch in about a month and will fledge five weeks or so after hatching. During this breeding period, the male will be a devoted father, guarding the nest and hunting for his family.
The second pair may begin their mating season a bit later than the southwestern birds, depending on how far north is their breeding territory. However, the process of mating and raising offspring will be the same for these birds, once mating commences.
Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO). First image, ISO 1250, f7.1 @ 1/2000, +1 1/3 stop exposure compensation. Second image, ISO 400, f5.6 @ 1/1600, +1 stop exposure compensation.