chicken hawks vs red-tailed hawks

Have you ever looked up into the sky and seen a hawk soaring overhead, its eyes scanning the ground for a snack?

Hawks are some of the coolest birds out there, with their sharp talons, keen eyesight, and impressive wings. But not all hawks are the same.

I’m going to provide you with a chicken hawk vs Red tailed Hawk analysis. It will help you understand similarities and difference between both hawks effortlessly.

What is Chicken Hawk?

You might have heard the term “chicken hawk” thrown around and wondered, what exactly is the difference between these two?

Well, strap in because we’re about to find out together in a fun and easy-to-understand way!

First things first, let’s clear up a little confusion. The term “chicken hawk” isn’t actually a scientific name for a specific bird. Instead, it’s a nickname that’s been used for several types of hawks that are known to snatch up chickens from farms. 

These could include the Cooper’s hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk, and sometimes the red-tailed hawk too. So, when we talk about chicken hawks, we’re really talking about a few different birds that share a similar reputation.

chicken hawk

What is Red-Tailed Hawk?

Now, onto the red-tailed hawk. This bird is one of the most common hawks in North America, and you can recognize it by its broad, rounded wings and that beautiful reddish-brown tail it’s named for.

They’re pretty big, with a wingspan that can reach up to 56 inches!

Red-tailed hawks love open areas like fields and deserts, where they can soar high and spot their next meal from above.

red-tailed hawk

Difference between Chicken Hawks vs Red-Tailed Hawk

So, what makes them different from the so-called chicken hawks? Well, for starters, the red-tailed hawk is a specific species, while “chicken hawk” can refer to a few different ones. 

Hunting Tactics

Chicken Hawks (Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawk): These hawks are known for their incredible agility. They can navigate through dense forests or dart around buildings and trees in suburban areas to catch their prey by surprise.

Their hunting style is quite bold; they might even chase birds into bushes or onto the ground, using their speed and maneuverability to catch smaller birds.

The red-tailed hawk prefers a more open approach. It often hunts by soaring high in the sky and using its keen vision to spot prey from above. Once it sees a potential meal, it dives down at high speeds to snatch it up. 

This hawk relies on its powerful talons and the element of surprise from above to catch larger prey, such as rodents and rabbits, on open grounds.

Physical Appearance

The term generally refers to smaller hawks, like the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, which have slimmer bodies and shorter wings compared to the red-tailed hawk.

These characteristics make them more suited to navigating through trees. Their coloring is more subdued, with darker backs and barred patterns on their chests and underparts.

difference between chicken hawk and red tailed hawk

This hawk is larger and more robust, with a broad chest and wider wings that are ideal for soaring. The most distinguishing feature is its rich, red tail, which is visible when the bird is flying or perched. Their plumage is generally a mix of brown and white, with a distinctive belly band of darker streaks.

Behavior and Vocalizations

These hawks are relatively quiet and stealthy, especially when hunting. Their calls are sharp and high-pitched, often heard during mating season or when they feel threatened.

Known for its distinctive, raspy scream that sounds almost like a movie soundtrack. This call is often used in films and TV shows to depict the wilderness or to add drama to outdoor scenes. Red-tailed hawks are also more solitary and territorial, making their presence known in their chosen habitat.

Interaction with Humans

Because they sometimes prey on chickens and other small domestic birds, they’ve gained notoriety among farmers. Their adaptability means they’re often seen in suburban areas, where bird feeders attract their prey.

Red hawk is more likely to be seen as a beneficial presence, controlling rodent populations in agricultural and open areas. They’re less likely to come into conflict with humans since their diet is broader and doesn’t typically include domestic birds.

Habitat Adaptability

Red-tailed hawks are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of habitats, from deserts to urban areas. Chicken hawks, particularly Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, prefer wooded or forested areas, though they can also adapt to suburban settings if there is ample tree cover.

Migration Patterns

Some chicken hawks, like the sharp-shinned hawk, exhibit more pronounced migration behaviors, moving between breeding and wintering grounds. Red-tailed hawks are less migratory, with many individuals staying within their territory year-round.

Nesting Habits

Red-tailed hawks tend to build their nests in tall trees or on cliff ledges, using sticks and lining them with softer materials. Chicken hawks also nest in trees but might be more inclined to use dense foliage for cover, reflecting their preference for stealth and privacy.

Social Behavior

Red-tailed hawks are generally more solitary or found in pairs, especially during the breeding season. Chicken hawks, while also often solitary, may be seen in larger groups during migration or in favorable feeding areas, indicating slight differences in social dynamics.

Lifespan and Reproduction

There may be subtle differences in the average lifespan, reproductive rate, and maturity age between these two types of hawks, influenced by their varying diets, habitats, and predation risks.

Chicken Hawk Vs Red-Tailed Hawk- Quick Difference

Aspect Chicken Hawks Red-Tailed Hawks
Common Names Nickname for several species Specific species
Species Included Cooper’s hawk, Sharp-shinned hawk, etc. Buteo jamaicensis
Size Smaller, slimmer Larger, broader wings
Habitat Forests and wooded areas Open fields, deserts, and urban areas
Hunting Style Agile, capable of navigating through dense foliage Soaring and diving from high altitudes
Diet Primarily smaller birds and sometimes chickens Broad range including rodents, rabbits, and other small animals
Tail Color Variable, not specifically red Distinctive red

Similarities Between “Chicken Hawks” and Red-Tailed Hawks

While “chicken hawks” (a term commonly used for Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and sometimes red-tailed hawks) and red-tailed hawks have their differences, they also share several similarities. These common traits underline their roles in the ecosystem as birds of prey.

Adaptability to Environments

Both “chicken hawks” and red-tailed hawks show remarkable adaptability to different environments. They can thrive in a variety of habitats, from dense forests and rural farmlands to suburban and even urban areas. This adaptability ensures their survival and success across a wide geographic range.

Diet and Scavenging

Both groups are opportunistic feeders with diets that include a wide range of prey. They can adjust their eating habits based on what’s available, from small mammals like mice and rabbits to birds, insects, and carrion. This flexibility in diet helps them to thrive in diverse environments and conditions.

Nesting and Reproduction

“Chicken hawks” and red-tailed hawks share similar nesting behaviors. They typically build large nests in tall trees or on cliff ledges, and both tend to be monogamous, often returning to the same nesting sites year after year. During breeding season, both exhibit strong territorial behaviors to protect their nests and young from potential threats.

Role in the Ecosystem

Both play crucial roles in controlling the populations of their prey, maintaining a healthy balance in the ecosystems where they live. By preying on small mammals and other birds, they help to regulate those populations, preventing overpopulation and the spread of disease.

Intelligence and Learning

Both “chicken hawks” and red-tailed hawks display high levels of intelligence and learning capabilities. They are known to use strategies and techniques for hunting and survival that are passed down through generations, showcasing their ability to adapt and learn from their experiences.


Chicken hawks (a term for hawks like Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks) and red-tailed hawks differ in size, habitat, and diet. Chicken hawks are smaller, prefer wooded areas, and often hunt birds, sometimes including chickens. Red-tailed hawks are larger, favor open spaces, and have a varied diet including rodents and small mammals. Despite these differences, both play crucial roles in their ecosystems, showcasing the diversity and adaptability of nature’s predators.


Why are they called chicken hawks?

The term “chicken hawk” refers to hawks that are known to prey on chickens. It’s not a scientific name but a nickname given to species like the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, which have been observed attacking chickens in farms and backyards. This term has also been loosely applied to the red-tailed hawk, although it’s less common for them to hunt chickens.

How big is a chicken hawk?

The size of a “chicken hawk” can vary depending on which species you’re referring to. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, often called chicken hawks, are smaller birds of prey. Cooper’s hawks are about 14-20 inches in length with a wingspan of about 24-35 inches, while sharp-shinned hawks are smaller, about 10-14 inches long with a wingspan of 20-30 inches.

What is the biggest hawk?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk in North America, with a wingspan ranging from 53 to 56 inches. It’s known for its large size, powerful build, and beautiful rusty hues on its back and shoulders. This hawk primarily inhabits the open landscapes of the western United States.

What is the significance of the red-tailed hawk?

The red-tailed hawk holds significant cultural and symbolic meaning in various Native American traditions, representing strength, leadership, and vision. Its distinctive red tail, visible when soaring in the sky, makes it easily recognizable and admired for its beauty and hunting prowess. It’s also considered a symbol of guardianship and strength in many cultures.

What are the abilities of a red-tailed hawk?

The red-tailed hawk possesses several remarkable abilities, including:

  • Keen Vision: Their eyesight is about eight times more powerful than humans, allowing them to spot prey from great distances.
  • Powerful Flight: With broad wings and a strong body, they can soar high in the sky and dive at high speeds to catch prey.
  • Versatile Diet: They have a broad diet, including rodents, rabbits, snakes, and other small animals, demonstrating their adaptability.
  • Territorial Behavior: Red-tailed hawks are known for their strong territorial instincts, often returning to the same nesting areas year after year.


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