Red-tailed hawks are large birds of prey found throughout the United States. Their role in the ecosystem is extremely important and their habitats are threatened, so they are protected under several U.S. laws. The most significant of these laws, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, provides protection to numerous species of other birds in addition to the red-tailed hawk, including egrets, geese and eagles. The red-tailed hawk is not classified as endangered or threatened.
Ownership and Possession
Red-tailed hawks can't be taken from the wild or purchased as pets. Their dietary needs, large territorial range and aggressive tendencies all make them unsuitable pet choices, even without taking into account the harsh penalties for ownership. The MBTA makes exceptions for wildlife rehabilitators and falconers. Falconers who own red-tailed hawks must be licensed by their state and are required to apprentice under an experienced falconer for two years. Wildlife rehabilitators must also be licensed and may only keep the hawk until it is ready to return to the wild. In the case of hawks who must live in captivity permanently, wildlife rehabilitators must provide ample space and an environment that mimics the hawks' natural habitat. Violation of this law is punishable by large fines and jail time.
Feathers and Nests
The MBTA bans the possession of parts of red-tailed hawks, including their feathers, nests and eggs. Hawk feathers are religiously significant to some Native American tribes, and the law allows members of these tribes to possess them. They cannot, however, sell the feathers to people for whom they are not religiously significant.
It is illegal to hunt red-tailed hawks. Hawks also may not be poisoned or trapped. People certified in wildlife rehabilitation are generally trained to trap and move red-tailed hawks who are injured or who are preying on domestic animal, and there are exceptions in the law that allow them to do so.
States are permitted to pass more restrictive laws regarding red-tailed hawks as long as they do not conflict with federal laws. States may, for example, prevent hunters from killing prey of the red-tailed hawk, ban the use of bird callers that confuse red-tailed hawks and enact other legislation to protect birds of prey.