Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Details About The Red-shouldered Hawk

  • General Information

    The adult Red-shouldered Hawk's breast is rufous with fine horizontal barring. Its tail is black with 3-4 narrow white bands. The juvenile's breast is light with dark brown vertical streaking, and the tail is dark brown with many fine light brown bands. The red "shoulders" (actually the wrist of the bird) are difficult to spot at a distance. Red-shouldered Hawks have longer tails than Red-tailed Hawks. The iris darkens with age and its cere becomes less greenish and more yellow. This hawk has four notched primaries.

    Latin Name: Buteo lineatus
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Accipitridae
    Length: 15-19 inches
    Weight: 1.1-2 pounds
    Wingspan: 37-42 inches
    Common Name: Red-Bellied Hawk
    Etymology: buteo (Latin) - "a kind of hawk"; lineatus (Latin) - "striped"

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The Red-shouldered Hawk's active flight is accipiter-like with 3-5 quick, stiff shallow wing beats, then a period of glide. They soar with wingtips slightly drooping and do not hover.

    A loud, screaming kee yar dropping in pitch, typically uttered 2-4 times is the typical call of this species. Red-shouldered hawks are quite vocal (blue jays frequently mimic their call), especially during spring courtship.

    These hawks prefer denser woodlands than the Red-tailed Hawk, choosing swampy lowlands or woods around streams and rivers. Development by humans tends to decrease habitat for Red-shouldered Hawks and creates open areas preferred by Red-tails. Red-shouldered Hawks are more difficult to spot perched lower in trees. In winter, they perch in the open more often. They will commonly nest in suburbs.

  • Nesting

    The Red-shouldered Hawk pair makes their nest of sticks, often returning to the same territory for many years. They usually construct a new nest each year but may refurbish a nest from several years ago. Red-shouldered Hawks build their nests lower than the Red-tailed Hawks, at about half way up the tree. They often line the nest with greenery (possibly to repel parasites). Females lay 2-4 eggs, and incubation lasts about 33 days and is shared by both sexes. Young fledge in 5-6 weeks (45 days on average). This species tends to begin breeding at 2 years. Their nests are usually spaced .67 to 1.3 miles apart along rivers.

  • Distribution

    Red-shouldered Hawks are fairly common east of the Great Plains, and the northern birds are migratory. Pesticides have probably contributed to reduced populations, but the loss of habitat is the most likely cause of any long-term decline. Red-shouldered Hawks are of special concern in North Carolina.

  • Food

    Red-shouldered Hawks feed on small mammals, birds, frogs and toads, snakes and lizards, and occasionally crustaceans, fish and insects.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Lakota, the Red-shouldered Hawk, is a member of our education team where she travels to schools across the region educating children about natural history, ecology and the environment. Red-shouldered Hawks are very common in North Carolina, second in abundance and size to the Red-tailed Hawk. Lakota means “friend,” and is also the name of a member tribe of the great Sioux Nation.

    In 2017, Hagen joined our education team. He is named after a Burgundian warrior. Red-shouldered hawks have a loud warrior-like cry, which can often be heard in nesting season.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    The Red-shouldered Hawk is truly the "Chatty Cathy" of the raptor world. You will know that you have one of these in your backyard by listening for the plaintive rising "kee-yah" repeated over and over. She just wants you to listen to her!

    "Hawkish" is used to describe a statement from the Federal Reserve indicating that it may raise interest rates. The statement is called "hawkish" because it indicates that the Fed believes that the inflation rate is high enough to warrant concern.