Red Shouldered Hawk: Habitat, Behavior, and Conservation

Scott Paul

a hawk is perched on a tree branch

A Red-shouldered Hawk is a striking bird, often seen soaring over forests or near water. Recognizable by its barred reddish underparts and banded tail, this hawk is a common sight in tall woods. It is well known for its distinct call, often heard long before the bird itself is visible.

Their breeding range covers eastern North America and parts of California. These hawks are typically permanent residents in most of their range, though some northern populations migrate to central Mexico. In flight, look for the translucent crescents near their wingtips, a key feature that helps identify them from a distance.

Found in woodlands and near rivers, the Red-shouldered Hawk has adapted well to various habitats. They hunt by perching quietly and scanning the ground for small animals. From their striking appearance to their unique hunting methods, these hawks play a vital role in their ecosystems.

Key Takeaways

  • Red-shouldered Hawks have barred reddish underparts and a banded tail.
  • Their range includes eastern North America and parts of California.
  • Look for translucent wing crescents when identifying them in flight.

Characteristics and Identification

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey known for its distinctive markings and calls. This section outlines the hawk’s physical traits, subspecies, and vocalizations.

Physical Description

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) measures about 16-24 inches in length, showcasing reddish-peachy underparts. Both males and females have black and white bands across their tails.

The wingspan ranges from 37 to 42 inches. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips help with identification. The hawk’s head is generally pale with a distinct red “shoulder” patch on its upper wings.

Subspecies Variations

There are five recognized subspecies of the Red-shouldered Hawk. The eastern subspecies has a bright reddish chest and stark banding on the tail.

Western subspecies are paler and the Florida subspecies is darker and smaller in size. The ranges of these subspecies overlap in some areas, which can make identification tricky.

The color intensity and markings can vary slightly based on their habitat.

Vocalizations and Calls

The Red-shouldered Hawk is known for its loud, whistling call that sounds like “kee-aah.” This call is often repeated several times. During courtship, these calls become even more frequent.

Both males and females call to each other, especially when defending their territory. Their calls are high-pitched and can be heard over long distances.

In-flight calls are also common, especially when the hawk is hunting or communicating with its mate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Red-shouldered hawks are known for their distinct features and behaviors. They have unique calls, special hunting habits, and specific habitats. Below are some common questions about these fascinating birds.

How can you identify a red-shouldered hawk?

Red-shouldered hawks have reddish-brown heads and black and white bars on their wings. Their chests are reddish-orange with faint white bars, and their tails are black with white bars. They are 16-24 inches long.

What are the differences in appearance between male and female red-shouldered hawks?

Males and females look almost the same. Females are usually a bit larger than males, but this size difference is not easy to see without careful observation.

What is included in the diet of red-shouldered hawks?

Red-shouldered hawks eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They may also eat insects and small fish if other food is not available.

What is the typical range and habitat of a red-shouldered hawk?

These hawks live in forests with tall trees near water. They are often seen in eastern North America, especially in the southeastern United States. Some are also found in California.

How does the call of a red-shouldered hawk differ from that of a red-tailed hawk?

The red-shouldered hawk’s call is a high-pitched whistle, sounding like “kee-aah.” The red-tailed hawk has a raspy, screeching call, which is more harsh and less musical.

What predators or threats do red-shouldered hawks face in their natural environment?

Predators of red-shouldered hawks include great horned owls and raccoons. Human activities such as deforestation also pose a threat by reducing their habitat.