[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Partly sunny
Partly sunny
Today in
S.C.V. History
July 21
1952 - 7.5-magnitude Kern County earthquake devastates Tehachapi; damage spread from San Diego to Las Vegas [story]

Commentary by Sarah Brewer Thompson
| Thursday, Dec 12, 2013

sarahbrewerthompson_mugOne of the most majestic birds we have in Santa Clarita – and a personal favorite of mine – is the red-tailed hawk.

They are actually one of the most common birds of prey in the United States, and because of their extreme adaptability, they can be seen in downtown Los Angeles as well as in the mountains and countryside.

Because of their adaptability and healthy population, they are also one of the most commonly used birds in North American falconry.

Red-tailed hawks also hold special spiritual significance for many Native Californian groups, with their strong presence, impeccable hunting skills and beautiful feathers holding special meaning.

Ever since I was a small child, I always thought of them as watchful spirits in the sky, ever observant of what is going on around them.

Photos by Sarah Brewer Thompson

Photos by Sarah Brewer Thompson

Red-tailed hawks are included in the Buteo genus of raptors, which includes red-shouldered hawks, Swainson’s hawks and Ferruginous hawks. Buteos are characterized by their broad wings and robust, sturdy bodies.

Red-tails are found all over the North American continent and are in most U.S. states year-round. They can often been seen perched on fences, street lights, freeway signs, telephone poles or branches.

Like all raptors, they are supremely adapted for hunting. They have four toes per foot, each with a large, sharp talon. They have a sturdy, large, sharp beak for tearing meat. They are true carnivores, and their varied diet often includes small to medium-sized rodents (gophers, rats, rabbits and hares), reptiles (rattlesnakes, lizards, and gopher snakes), and smaller birds (including other raptors).

Their talons are extremely strong, exerting upward of 65 pounds per square inch of pressure, which is strong enough to break the bones in a human hand.

Being diurnal, they are active and hunt during the day and rest at night. They are patient hunters and will look for prey as they sit on a high perch or soar 200-250 feet in the air, scoping out what is beneath them. They will cruise the skies and wait for food to come along, then swoop down and use their powerful talons to grab prey.

Like other raptors, red-tailed hawks display sexual dimorphism, meaning there is a visual difference between males and females.

Female red-tails are up to 30 percent larger than the males and are one of the largest birds in the Santa Clarita area, other than the rarely seen golden eagle and the more commonly seen turkey vulture.

Because of their physical similarities to eagles, if you see a large enough red-tail, they can often be confused for an eagle. That is, until you see a golden eagle and realize how huge they are. Fully grown red-tailed hawks typically weight 2.5 to 3 pounds, while a golden eagle can weigh more than 12 pounds.

hawk3Mature red-tails are typically 17-25 inches in length, weigh 1.5 to 3.3 pounds, and have an average wingspan of 43-56 inches. It might be surprising to learn that such a large bird weighs around three pounds, but as in other birds, their bones are thin and hollow to allow for flight. As a result, however, this makes them somewhat fragile and puts them in danger if they fight with another bird or run into something. Many red-tails that come into rehab centers have injured wings or eyes, which are two of the most delicate parts of their otherwise tough bodies.

Unlike some other raptor species, red-tails can be difficult to identify because of the wide variety in color, ranging from very light to very dark. The differentiation depends most greatly on genetics, health, age and the season.

Their distinctive tail is a beautiful rusty red from above with thin, horizontal black stripes near the tip. The tail is not red from below – which often confuses observers because that is most commonly the side you see. The coloring on the body is lighter from below and darker from above, with a dark or black bar along the leading edge of the wing. The underside can be dark and mottled, or it can be a rich ivory color. They are often confused with their Buteo cousins, the red-shouldered hawk.

Aside from their large size, impressive hunting skills and beautiful appearance, there is more to this awesome animal, including their call.

Their call is a distinctive loud, harsh, down-slurred scream that is often prolonged, sounding like “kee-ahrrr.” Interestingly, it is often confused with that of an eagle because the film industry has utilized the red-tailed hawk’s scream for sound effects to depict eagles in TV and movies.

While the red-tail’s scream is so iconic, it is almost humorous to compare it to the call of a bald eagle, which makes a less intimidating series of chirps and squeaking noises.

Another characteristic that impresses many is that these birds are monogamous, meaning they mate for life. Their courting display is fascinating to watch if you are lucky enough to see one: They soar up into the air, swirling around and calling to each other in what seems like an aerial ballet.

Debra Goodwin handles Looks Twice at Vasquez Rocks.

Debra Goodwin handles Looks Twice at Vasquez Rocks.

If you have seen a bird presentation or visited the bird enclosures at Vasquez Rocks, you have probably seen a very large, beautiful bird in the first mew – a red-tailed hawk named Looks Twice. As with the other birds that reside at Vasquez Rocks, Looks Twice lives in captivity because she is non-releasable. She is about 12 years old (born in 2001) and came to live at Vasquez when she was about 1 year old.

Looks Twice was first brought in to Hart Park with an injured left eye. She recovered fully, but unfortunately is completely blind in her left eye. If you look closely and compare her two eyes, the right eye is a beautiful golden brown color, while the left is very dark and cloudy.

For such a powerful yet fragile bird, having limited vision would be life-threatening for Looks Twice if she were released back into the wild. She would fly into something or not be able to hunt, and would become prey for another animal.

Because of her partial vision, she was named “Looks Twice” by a Native American local and has been a big part of the Vasquez Rocks family since she arrived. Although like the other birds, her story is sad, she has served as an amazing teaching tool, allowing thousands of people of all ages to see her up-close. It is a treat to see the reactions on the faces of people in awe of her strength and beauty – something you don’t get to see when they are soaring high above you.

Based on the lifespans of other red-tailed hawks in captivity, Looks Twice could live to 22-25 years because she is in excellent health. We are all hoping she has a long, happy life with us, and we know she will continue to serve as an ambassador for her species.

Feel free to come and visit Looks Twice and the other amazing animals at Vasquez Rocks – one of the most beautiful places in Santa Clarita.


Sarah Brewer Thompson was born and raised in Agua Dulce, where she learned to love and appreciate nature and history. She is a master’s student at California State University, Northridge, and a docent at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Her areas of interest are local history, archaeology and animal studies.


hawk7hawk6 hawk5 hawk4

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


  1. David Tanner says:

    Thanks for a great informative article on the Red Tailed Hawk.

  2. I enjoyed reading your article and learning more about the hawk who we share the environment with. A great piece of writing. I’ll be planning a trip to see the hawks really soon.

  3. Tony Biegen says:

    Great article. I think you’ve covered everything known about Red Tails. They’re also one of my favorite local birds.

  4. Darla Buchalla says:

    Hi Sarah – It was great to read you article and view the great photos. I love to watch the hawks also! Thanks!

  5. Sarah Thompson says:

    Thanks all! Very glad you enjoyed it. They really are remarkable birds, aren’t they? We are very lucky that they still have a healthy population out here. Now just need to work on the condors! (Wouldn’t that be something?)

    Sarah T.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Monday, Jul 2, 2018
In her July message, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste wishes residents a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July, and recaps a bit of local history.
Sunday, Jul 1, 2018
The Mojave rattlesnake or “Mojave green” is a highly irritable and unpredictable pit viper. By comparison, the Pacific rattlesnake you might be accustomed to is fairly tame.
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
Your rights guarantee that you get the health services the law says you can get, protect you against unethical practices, and ensure the privacy of your personal and medical information. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times, and to be protected from discrimination.
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
California voters just bought the feel-good tax proposition that was stated to raise yet another $4 billion for “clean water” funds. Days later, Brown declared it isn’t enough. There will be another ballot measure in November to raise another $8 billion.
Friday, Jun 8, 2018
Our state leaders are finally working together to address one of the greatest inequities in higher education – funding for California community colleges that serve high need students.
Wednesday, Jun 6, 2018
Not every decision on the table must be made within the next week. When it comes to deciding how to fund community colleges, it would be wise to hit pause and devote more careful consideration to the discussion.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1952 - 7.5-magnitude Kern County earthquake devastates Tehachapi; damage spread from San Diego to Las Vegas [story]
The L.A. County Superior Court on July 17 sided with Los Angeles County and dismissed a portion of Chiquita Canyon LLC's complaint, which challenged 13 conditions of the county's conditional use permit governing how the landfill operates, Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced Friday.
Court: Chiquita Landfill Must Comply with CUP, Pay County $12 Mil.
Four men allegedly stole a van and crashed it at Cinema Drive and Valencia Boulevard late Friday afternoon, breaking gas and water lines and snarling rush-hour traffic in the center of the city.
Suspected Van Thieves Crash, Rupture Gas, Water Lines in Valencia
The Los Angeles County Arts Commission has announced $4,518,000 in two-year grants to 216 nonprofit arts organizations through its Organizational Grant Program, and the Santa Clarita Philharmonic Orchestra and the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival are among the grantees.
Santa Clarita Philharmonic, Shakespeare Festival Win County Arts Grants
The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency's board of directors voted in its Tuesday meeting to revise its per-diem payment policy for board members attending industry-related meetings and conferences.
SCV Water Board Trims Own Meeting Attendance Pay
College of the Canyons men's basketball player Robert Moss will continue his playing career at University of Saint Katherine after committing to join the Firebirds program.
COC Hoopster Robert Moss Commits to University of Saint Katherine
When wives earn more than their husbands, a puzzling thing can happen: Husbands say they earn more than they are and wives underreport their income, according to new Census Bureau research.
Census Research: Spouses Report Earnings Differently When Wives Earn More
Responding to a booming economy and a generous state budget, administrators on Thursday approved the first tuition decrease for the University of California system in nearly 20 years.
University of California Cuts Tuition for First Time in 20 Years
The William S. Hart Union High School District and Spirit Holding, developers of Castaic High School, will host a community kick-off event on Friday, Aug. 3, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. celebrating the one-year countdown to the grand opening of the new school, currently under construction.
Aug. 3: ‘Countdown to Castaic High’ Public Celebration
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, July 24, starting at 9:30 a.m.
July 24: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
The Los Angeles County Health Officer has issued a Heat Alert for Monday, July 23 and Tuesday, July 24, as high temperatures have been forecast for the Santa Clarita Valley.
SCV Heat Alert Called for Monday, Tuesday
The Lancaster JetHawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but two late home runs from Stockton's Sandber Pimentel led the Ports to victory in a 5-4 final on Thursday night at Banner Island Ballpark.
Lancaster Can’t Stop Pimentel, Ports
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and Department of Justice have made public the government's plan for the court-ordered reunification of children ages 5 years and older who were separated from their parents by immigration authorities.
Feds Detail Plan to Reunite Immigrant Children with Parents
2001 - Then-Assemblyman George Runner introduces legislation to memorialize the historic Ridge Route. Enacted Oct. 4. [story]
During a press conference on Thursday at the Gerdau steel mill in Rancho Cucamonga, Chief Eric Parra announced the destruction of 3,566 weapons confiscated within in Los Angeles County. This event comes typically in July, in compliance with California Penal Code 18005(c), which calls for weapons unable to be sold to the public or returned to their owners, to be destroyed.
More than 3,500 Weapons Destroyed at Annual Destruction Event
The Summer Art Festival, at the Oaks Club of Valencia, invites you to a fun, free artists’ reception on Saturday, Aug. 11, 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Aug. 11: Summer Art Festival at Oaks Club
When you think "Advanced Manufacturing," Santa Clarita Valley probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind.
SCV Paves the Way for Advanced Manufacturing
(CN) – Delivering a blow to a Silicon Valley billionaire, the California Supreme Court on Wednesday erased a November ballot measure proposing to divide the Golden State in three.
State Supreme Court Tosses Ballot Measure to Split California in Three
Internationally famous Doña Oxford aka “The Goddess of Soul,” is fronting one of the hottest Blues bands of the 21st century. She has toured all over the world, bringing her amazing keyboard playing and vocals to devoted fans in Europe, Japan, Canada and the United States.
July 20: Valencia Jazz & Blues Series to Feature Doña Oxford
No business is immune from the unthinkable. Workplace violence is an increasingly important topic for organizations of all types.
Aug. 21: Active Shooter Awareness Training at VIA Luncheon
St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish Church is holding their 2nd Annual Summer Night Car Show Friday, Aug. 24 from 6:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Aug. 24: St. Kateri 2nd Annual Summer Night Car Show
The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on Thursday launched the Los Angeles Homeless Outreach Portal, dubbed LA-HOP, the new Countywide Web-based portal that channels outreach support to people experiencing homelessness.
County Launches Online Portal to Combat Homelessness
LOS ANGELES - Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) announced Tuesday the company is now offering $75 rebates for residential customers who purchase eligible Energy Star certified smart thermostats that help residents manage their heating and cooling costs and conserve energy.
SoCal Gas Offering Rebates for Customers with Smart Thermostats
STOCKTON – Brian Serven put together one of his best offensive performances of the season to lead the JetHakwks to a 7-2 to win over the Stockton Ports on Wednesday night at Banner Island Ballpark.
Serven Leads JetHawks to Victory in Series Opener Against Stockton
The William S. Hart Union High School District’s Governing Board voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Brad Renison to become the new Director of Transportation. Most recently, Mr. Renison has been serving as the Interim Director of Transportation.
Hart District Names Brad Renison New Transportation Director
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers today acquired four-time All-Star shortstop Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop and Breyvic Valera.
Dodgers Acquire 4-Time All-Star Manny Machado
The William S. Hart Union High School District’s Governing Board voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Dr. Catherine Nicholas to become the new principal of Sequoia School.
Hart District Appoints Dr. Catherine Nicholas as New Sequoia School Principal
Welcome to paradise at a high-energy, live show coming up in Santa Clarita’s Concerts in the Park series, presented by Logix Federal Credit Union, this Saturday, July 21, at 7:00 p.m., in Central Park (27150 Bouquet Canyon Road).
July 21: Concerts in the Park to Feature Green Day Tribute Band
SCV Sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit deputies and station detectives have noted an increase in the thefts of catalytic converters from cars in Santa Clarita Valley. The favored target of thieves has been the Toyota Prius (2005-2009).
Deputies Warn of Rise in Catalytic Converter Thefts from Prius Cars
LOS ANGELES – According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, air quality will be unhealthy Thursday for sensitive individuals in San Gabriel Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley.
Air Quality Advisory Issued for SCV
Would you like to be a volunteer at beautiful Red Rock Canyon State Park? Learn about the volunteer program and the park’s natural and cultural history at our two-day volunteer training, Saturdays, Sept. 1st and 8th from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at the Ricardo Visitor Center (new volunteers must attend both days).
Red Rock Canyon State Park to Hold 2-Day Volunteer Training
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announces the scheduled closure of the Tejon Safety Roadside Rest Areas on Interstate 5 (Golden State Freeway) to replace a water main line.
Caltrans Announces Temporary Rest Area Closure on I-5 at Tejon
1924 - Sherman Block, L.A. County's 29th Sheriff (1982-1998), born in Chicago [story]
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies have arrested a Santa Clarita woman who allegedly spray-painted walls on a city park building in Saugus early Tuesday morning, also discovering she was allegedly in possession of forged checks.
Woman Charged with Defacing Park Building, Check Forgery
The Paramount Network has set Aug. 11 as the premiere date of 'I Am Paul Walker,' a new film documentary tracing the life of the late actor, who was killed in a 2013 car crash in Valencia.
Aug. 11: Paul Walker Film Doc to Debut on Paramount Network
Marston's Restaurant in Valencia is helping raise funds for Carousel Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley nonprofit organization that provides equestrian therapy for disabled and special needs children and adults.
July 15-Aug. 15: Marston’s Restaurant Fundraising for Carousel Ranch