I really like Red-Tailed Hawks and I was fascinated to be able to hold and observe this bird up close, although it was also very sad because the world has now lost another of these beautiful raptors.
Because of the dark streaking across the belly and absence of the red coloring on the underside of the tail feathers, I'm going to say this was a first year bird. There were no obvious signs of any trauma that might have contributed to this bird's death. I did notice that it smelled a bit like a skunk -- not strongly, but the aroma was definitely there. Do Red-Tailed Hawks eat skunks? Could it have eaten a skunk that someone had poisoned? I guess we'll never know....
Look at that sharp, hooked beak! Perfect for tearing apart a tasty mouse or some other small mammal.
Here's another look at it without my fat fingers in the way. I'm always amazed at how large their eyes are too. (Addendum: I neglected to say in the original post that when we brought this bird home you could see that its eyes were yellow - it's been wrapped up in a bag and frozen outside for about 5 weeks and the eyes have gone dark now.) Seeing them up close helps you understand how they have such excellent vision to spot a tiny mouse on the ground from the top of a utility pole or tree branch.
Here's a close-up look at the tail that gives this bird its name. Such pretty plumage.......
Look at these talons! I couldn't believe how long and sharp they were!
Here's another look at it with my finger for comparison. Their feet are really huge. Last summer I was lucky enough to spot a Red-Tailed Hawk on the ground that was in the process of catching a snake. I was able to pull over and watch the hawk dance around on the snake until it was able to grasp the snake securely with its feet and talons and then fly away with the snake. I guessed the snake to be about 2-3 feet long. It was a sight I'll never forget. After seeing this hawk's feet up close, it helped me appreciate more how they're able to capture and subdue their prey.
The bird was still frozen, but I was able to stretch its wing out a little bit. My Sibley guide says they have a wingspan of 49 inches. It's hard to tell from here, but when you see them soaring in the sky, you can definitely appreciate their size and beauty.
If this hawk hadn't smelled of skunk, I would have been sorely tempted to do something illegal with it (like wrap it up and store it in the back of my deep freeze). But instead, I wrapped it up in a brown bag and laid it to rest far underneath one of the large evergreen trees in my backyard, where it will eventually return back to the earth.