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Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Buteoninae
Genus: Buteo

Length: 15-19 in.
Weight: 1.1-2 lbs.
Wingspan: 37-42 in.
Common Name: red-bellied hawk
Etymology: buteo (Latin) - "a kind of hawk"; lineatus (Latin) - "striped"
Description: Adult red-shouldered's breast is rufous with fine horizontal barring, tail is black with 3-4 narrow white bands. Immature's breast is light with dark brown vertical streaking, 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. Iris darkens with age and cere becomes less greenish and more yellow. They have four notched primaries.

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Flight, Voice, and Habitat:

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. Red-shouldered hawks are quite vocal (blue jays frequently mimic their call), especially during spring courtship.

They inhibit denser woodlands than the red-tailed hawk, preferring swampy lowlands or woods around streams and rivers. Development by humans tends to decrease habitat for red-shouldered hawks and create 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.


Make 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. Often line nest with greenery (possibly to repel parasites). Lay 2-4 eggs, incubation is about 33 days and is shared by both sexes. Young fledge in 5-6 weeks (45 days on average). Breed at 2 years, nest usually spaced .67 to 1.3 miles apart along rivers.


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


Small mammals, birds, frogs and toads, snakes and lizards, and occasionally crustaceans, fish and insects.

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