Talons and Prey Capture
There are four stout, sharp talons on each of the red-tail’s feet. Three of these talons project anteriorly and one projects posteriorly. The talons are opened by leg muscles pulling on a tendon that runs from the upper leg to the foot. Impact with an object (a perch or a prey item) bends the hawk’s ankle and causes the talons to rapidly and reflexively close. The four sharp talons pierce the captured prey animal deeply usually puncturing one or more vital organs causing the animal’s rapid death. The hawk uses its curved, hooked beak to tear the prey apart as it feeds.
Mice are a common food as are shrews, moles and chipmunks. The large size of the red-tail also enables them to take gray squirrels, rabbits and even young woodchucks as opportunities arise. Red-tails will also eat other birds and even large insects as they become available.