Red-shouldered Hawk

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Image:RedShoulderedHawk.jpg

Common Name: Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus

Size: 15-24 inches (38-61cm); Wingspan: 35-50 inches (90-127 cm)

Habitat: North America; the eastern population ranges west through southern Canada, from southern New Brunswick and western Ontario, to the eastern edge of the United States, the Great Plains, south to Florida, the Gulf Coast, and eastern Mexico. Only the northernmost populations are migratory. The Eastern population winters from southern Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Ohio and southern New England, south to the Gulf Coast and occasionally throughout its breeding range. In winter, it is reported south to Jalisco and Veracruz in Mexico. Eastern birds occasionally wander west in migration (e.g., Colorado, Kansas, West Texas, Manitoba, North Dakota); Western birds have strayed east to Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah, and north to Washington.

The western population breeds west of Sierra Nevada from North California to North Baja California, and has recently expanded into Oregon and Arizona, and east of the Sierra Mountains in California. Western populations are largely non-migratory. Throughout its winter range, this species avoids higher elevations.

Red-shouldered hawks are forest raptors. In the East, they live in bottomland hardwood stands, flooded deciduous swamps, and upland mixed deciduous–conifer forests. They tend to live in stands with an open sub-canopy, which makes it easier for them to hunt. They are not exclusively birds of deep forest, though; one can find red-shouldered hawks in some suburban areas where houses or other buildings are mixed into woodlands. In the West, they live in riparian and oak woodlands, and also in eucalyptus groves and some residential areas. Status: Least Concern. Global population: 1,100,000 adult individuals. Red-shouldered Hawk populations increased throughout most of their range between 1966 and 2010. Partners in Flight estimates that 97% spend some part of the year in the United States, 1% breeding in Canada, and 17% wintering in Mexico. The biggest threat to Red-shouldered Hawks is continued clearing of their wooded habitat. They also showed some sensitivity to pesticides such as DDT in the middle of the 20th century.

Diet: Small mammals (Voles, gophers, mice, moles and chipmunks) make up most of their diet. Slightly larger mammals, such as rabbits and tree squirrels, are also occasionally predated. Other prey can include amphibians, reptiles (especially small snakes), small birds, and large insects. They will attack birds as large as pigeons.

Red-shouldered hawks search for prey while perched on a treetop or soaring over woodlands. When they sight prey, they kill it by dropping directly onto it from the air. They may cache food near their nest for later consumption.

Nesting: While sexes are alike, females are slightly larger than males. Adults are colorful hawks with dark-and-white checkered wings and warm reddish barring on the breast. The tail is black with narrow white bands. Immatures are brown above and white below streaked with brown. All ages show narrow, pale crescents near the wingtips in flight.

The breeding habitats of the red-shouldered hawk are deciduous and mixed wooded areas, often near water. Red-shouldered hawks select sites with greater tree species richness for nesting. While courting or defending territories, the distinctive, repeated kee-aah call is heard. Courtship displays occur on the breeding grounds, and involve soaring together in broad circles while calling, or soaring and diving toward one another. Males may also perform the "sky-dance" by soaring high in the air, and then making a series of steep dives, each followed by a wide spiral and rapid ascent. These courtship flights usually occur in late morning and early afternoon.

Red-shouldered hawks' mating season is between April and July, with activity usually peaking between April and mid-June. The breeding pair builds a stick nest in a major fork of a large tree. They often use the same nest year after year, refurbishing it annually with sticks in the spring. The clutch size is typically three to four brown to lavender blotchy-marked eggs. The incubation period can range from 28 to 33 days. The male more often captures food but will also incubate and brood occasionally. The young leave the nest at about six weeks of age, but remain dependent on the parents until they are 17 to 19 weeks old. They may continue to roost near the nest site until the following breeding season. Breeding maturity is usually attained at 1 or 2 years of age.

Cool Facts: Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk's territory.

There are five recognized subspecies, which vary in range and in coloration:

  • B. l. lineatus, first described by Gmelin in 1788. The nominate species. Found in the Eastern United States.
  • B. l. alleni. Found from South central Texas to South Carolina and north Florida.
  • B. l. elegans. The Californian subspecies. Darker and redder than the nominate species.
  • B. l. extimus. The Florida subspecies. Paler than the nominate species
  • B. l. texanus. Found from south Texas to South-eastern Mexico (Veracruz).


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume III: Hawks of the New World

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