Ferruginous Hawk Vs. Red Tailed Hawk: What are the differences

While foraging in the woods, you saw a hawk roughly 20 to 26 inches. Is it a ferruginous hawk or a red tail? What are the differences between a ferruginous hawk vs. red tailed hawk? 

For starters, a ferruginous hawk is a brilliantly bright white, with a few dark spots. A red tail on the other hand, has a reddish morph with a bright red tail. 

Then again, if the hawk has a bright red tail, it’s hard to mistake a red tailed hawk as something else. 

Here, we have covered everything you will need to differentiate between a ferruginous hawk and a red tailed hawk. To get an easy answer, go through the comparison chart. Let’s dig in. 

How can you tell a ferruginous hawk?

If you identify a Ferruginous hawk, you need to look at its body. A normal ferruginous hawk has a bright white hue with some dark sightings. They have feathered legs and the bill is a bit larger. If you find a warm rusty reddish color on the shoulders and legs (Not the tail), then it’s a ferruginous hawk.

Ferruginous Hawk Vs. Red Tailed Hawk: Comparison Chart

Photo Credit: sdakotabirds.com
Photo Credit: sdakotabirds.com
FeaturesFerruginous Hawk Red Tailed Hawk
Weight3.3 lbs for an average adult2.4 lbs for an average adult
Length20 to 25 inches18 – 26 inches
Wing Span52-60 inches46-58 inches
Height22-28 inches19-25 inches
Male Vs. Female (Size)Female is largerThe female is one third larger than the male
Tail Colorlight-colored upper tailsRed-colored tail
Native HabitatFound in the West of the USA, and the South. Found in the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West of USA
Body colorBright white, with very minimal dark spottingReddish morphs
Breeding groundMainly the Middle Western USA, including South DakotaMainly in South Dakota but also in other regions as well.

Ferruginous Hawk: Everything you need

If you made it up here, then you must really be curious. Let’s start with the ferruginous one. A ferruginous hawk weighs about 3.3 lbs and has a light upper tail. Its bills are big and heavy, and the shoulders and legs may form a rusty reddish color. Here are the features of a Ferruginous hawk:

Leg and shoulder color

The legs and shoulders of a ferruginous hawk have a reddish imprint. You can compare the color to a warm rusty vibe. Some of them may have seemed darker, depending on the light or dark hawk variant. 

Ferruginous Hawk

Tail color

When it comes to the tail color, you will always find it white or dirty white. In the lighter ferruginous hawks, the tail has a white rump and a darker center. Whereas, the darker ones have a darker rump in white and black contrast. 


A ferruginous hawk weighs roughly 3.3 lbs. Then again, a young one will be anywhere from 2.5 to 2.8 lbs. 

Height and wingspan

Ferruginous hawks can reach a massive 22 inches to about 28 inches. Additionally, the wingspan can reach 60 inches maximum. It’s damn big for a Buteo. The wingspan of the bird is even bigger than a golf stick.

Breeding ground

The breeding place is really short. It’s in the Middle Western USA, including South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado. Finding ferruginous hawks in other places is quite rare during breeding season. 

Red Tailed Hawk: Everything you need

As the name suggests, a red tailed hawk has a signature red tail. Turns out, the birds have a wide range of color variations, starting from very light to dark. Their wingspan can reach up to 58 inches maximum and the height can be anywhere from 19-25 inches. A young juvenile red-tail hawk can feature a pale outer wing with a bit of red to it. 

Here are some of the identifying factors of red-tailed hawks:

Red tail

The red tail is one of the rarest specifications in the list of Buteo hawks. Literally no other hawks have this feature. However, the juvenile ones don’t always have this trait. Their tail is somewhat red but doesn’t have a bright red appearance. 

Red Tailed Hawk

Lighter underside with spots and streaks

A lighter underside with spots and streaks is another cool feature of the red tail. Most of them have a lighter outside body and the belly band is filled with spots and streaks. However, the darker ones will have a darker underside and a rufous upper chest.

Dark trailing wing edges

Both the darker and lighter red-tailed hawk have distinct dark trailing wing edges. Though it’s a common feature for Betus hawks, when you combine it with the other features, missing out on a ferruginous hawk is hard. 

Native habitat

You can see a red-tail hawk almost anywhere in the US. Starting from the Northeast, South, Midwest, to all the way West of the USA. In contrast to their native habitat, red-tail hawks breed through South Dakota.

Bigger female size

Female red-tail hawks typically have a length of 26 inches maximum. They are about ⅓ larger than the size of the male red tailed hawk. 

Ferruginous Hawk Vs. Red Tailed Hawk: Head To Head

Now, it’s time to differentiate between a ferruginous hawk and a red-tailed hawk. Don’t worry. The steps are simple. Check the trail, size, bill, color, and legs. There are other features as well, but these are the primary ones. Here they are in detail: 

Tail color

A red colored tail is the first thing you will notice when comparing a ferruginous hawk and a red-tailed one. Though both of them may seem to have a reddish upper side, the tail is always different. If someone’s not color blind, it is hard to miss out on the red color tail. 

Ferruginous Hawk Vs. Red Tailed Hawk

Overall size

Ferruginous hawks stand anywhere from 20 to 25 inches. On the other hand, a red tail can be about 18 to 26 inches. The female hawks on both sides are bigger than the male. 


Here things get a bit confusing. Both the hawks have a rusty reddish vibe. However, red tailed hawks have lighter underside with spots and streaks. Whereas, ferruginous hawks just have a reddish imprint. 

Native habitat

Red-tailed hawks are quite popular all over the US. Whether you are from Denali, Mount Whitney, Grand Teton, or the Clymer Meadow Preserve, sighting a red tailed hawk isn’t that new. On the other hand, ferruginous hawks are native to the Middle Western USA, including South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado. Both the hawks may come to South Dakota for mating. 

Height difference (Ferruginous hawks wins)

When it comes to the height and wingspan, the ferruginous wins them all. The ferruginous hawk stands at a height of 22 inches to 28 inches, where the females are the biggest. Red-tailed hawks can reach upto 25 inches maximum, but the average height is about 22 inches. 

Wingspan (Ferruginous hawks wins)

A ferruginous hawk on the flight can spread its wings to about 55 inches. Then again, some can even reach a massive 60 inches. In contrast, a red tail is about 46-58 inches. A smaller ferruginous hawk may look similar to a red tail, but the red color tail is obviously a kicker. 


Do red tailed hawks always have red tails?

Red tailed hawks (Male and female) always have a reddish hue on their tail. However, a red tailed hawk juvenile doesn’t always have this trail, especially when it doesn’t leave the nest. Rather, they feature darker horizontal barred tails. You can compare it with narrow red barring as well. 

How big is a Ferruginous Hawk?

A ferruginous hawk is anywhere from 20 to 25 inches. Its wings can speak up to 60 inches maximum. Female ferruginous hawks are typically bigger than their male counterparts. When it comes to the height, a ferruginous hawk will stand at 22 to 28 inches.

Which hawks are Buteos?

Buteos are a family of hawks which consists of red-tailed, Swainson’s, ferruginous, rough-legged, broad-winged hawks, and so on. There are about 30 types of Buteo and you can identify them as fairly large, wide-ranging raptors with a robust body. 

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End Note

We hope now you can identify the differences between ferruginous hawks vs. red tailed hawks. The obvious difference is, red-tailed hawks feature a rusty red hue on their tail. This is a rare feature of any buteos. 

Though both the ferruginous hawk and the red tailed hawk have a reddish upper back, a ferruginous hawk will never have a red tail.

However, when it comes to juvenile red tailed and ferruginous hawks, the differences aren’t that clear. In this case, the tail is a bit darker and horizontally barred. 

Finally, ferruginous hawks are a bit bigger than their red-tailed cousins. 

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