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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Whether wheeling over a swamp forest or whistling plaintively from a riverine park, a Red-shouldered Hawk is typically a sign of tall woods and water. It’s one of our most distinctively marked common hawks, with barred reddish-peachy underparts and a strongly banded tail. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips help to identify the species at a distance. These forest hawks hunt prey ranging from mice to frogs and snakes.

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Keys to identification Help

Hawks
Hawks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Red-shouldered Hawks are medium-sized, with broad, rounded wings and medium-length tails that they fan out when soaring. In flight, they often glide or soar with their wingtips pushed slightly forward, imparting a distinctive, “reaching” posture.

  • Color Pattern

    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.

  • Behavior

    Red-shouldered Hawks soar over forests or perch on tree branches or utility wires. Its rising, whistled kee-rah is a distinctive sound of the forest. They hunt small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles either from perches or while flying.

  • Habitat

    Look for Red-shouldered Hawks in deciduous woodlands, often near rivers and swamps. They build stick nests in a main crotch of a large tree. During migration, Red-shouldered Hawks often move high overhead along ridges or along the coast.

Range Map Help

Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (Eastern)
    • Stocky, compact Buteo
    • Reddish-orange barring on breast
    • Bold black and white markings on wings and tail
    • Long yellow legs
    • © Jon Corcoran/GBBC, Maryland, February 2011
  • Adult (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (Eastern)
    • Stocky, compact Buteo with longer tail
    • Bold black and white bands on wings and tail
    • Reddish-orange barring on underparts
    • Long, slender yellow legs
    • © Ian Davies, Charleston, South Carolina, January 2012
  • Adult (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (Eastern)
    • Stocky, compact Buteo
    • Short, rounded wings with pale, translucent crescents at tips
    • Reddish-orange barring on breast
    • Bold black and white bands on tail
    • © striatus, Maryland, May 2010
  • Juvenile (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Juvenile (Eastern)
    • Medium-sized, stocky Buteo with relatively long tail
    • Pale facial markings
    • Mostly brown, with thick dark streaks on underparts
    • © jedwyer, Georgia, October 2010
  • Juvenile (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Juvenile (Eastern)
    • Smaller, compact Buteo with longer tail
    • Rounded wings show pale crescent near tips
    • Thick, dark streaking on breast
    • Pale face
    • © striatus, Maryland, October 2010
  • Adult (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (Eastern)
    • Medium-sized, longer-tailed Buteo
    • Pale head
    • Reddish-orange barring on underparts
    • Long, slender legs
    • © Ian Davies, Manomet, Massachusetts, May 2011
  • Juvenile (Eastern)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Juvenile (Eastern)
    • Stocky and compact
    • Thick brown streaks on underparts
    • Usually shows pale facial markings, including white eyebrow
    • © Trish Hartmann, Tampa, Florida, February 2012
  • Adult (south Florida)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (south Florida)
    • Compact and stocky Buteo
    • Florida birds are very pale, particularly on head and breast
    • Reddish-orange patch on shoulder
    • Orange barring on breast
    • © Dave Govoni, Star Island, Kissimmee, Florida, May 2011
  • Juvenile (south Florida)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Juvenile (south Florida)
    • Medium-sized, compact Buteo with relatively long tail
    • Underparts heavily marked with dark streaks
    • Pale facial markings
    • © Laura Erickson, Viera Wetlands, Florida, January 2012
  • Adult (California)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (California)
    • Stocky, compact Buteo
    • California birds show rich and bright orange-red on head and underparts
    • Bold black and white markings on wings and tail
    • Brick-red patch on shoulder
    • © Bob Gunderson, San Francisco, California, March 2012
  • Adult (California)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult (California)
    • Medium-sized, compact Buteo with relatively long tail
    • California birds show rich rufous-orange throughout
    • Brick-red patch on shoulder
    • Bold black and white markings on wings
    • © Michelle Maani, Nipomo, California, February 2012
  • Juvenile (California)

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Juvenile (California)
    • Stocky, compact, and rather "Accipiter-like" for a Buteo
    • California juveniles show rich, warm brown coloration overall
    • Heavy, dark markings on underparts
    • Some pale facial markings, including white eyebrow
    • © Cameron Rognan, Arcata, California, February 2006

Similar Species

  • Juvenile

    Red-tailed Hawk

    Juvenile "Eastern form"
    • Larger and heavier than Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Shorter brown tail, with thin black bands
    • Darker overall, with white mottling on shoulders
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, November 2007
  • Adult

    Red-tailed Hawk

    Adult "Eastern form"
    • Larger and heavier-bodied than Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Broader wings
    • Dark streaks form distinct "belly band", with no orange barring below
    • Adult tail is red above, white below, with no black and white bands
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada, September 2008
  • Adult

    Broad-winged Hawk

    Adult
    • Smaller and chunkier than Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Stocky, short-necked appearance
    • Chocolate brown barring on breast
    • Warm brown overall, with a few, thick black and white tail-bands
    • © Jim McCree, Bangor, Maine, April 2012
  • Juvenile

    Broad-winged Hawk

    Juvenile
    • Superficially similar to juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Stockier, and shorter-necked
    • More sparse, diffuse, teardrop-shaped streaks on breast
    • © Kurt Kirchmeier, Saskatchewan, Canada, September 2011
  • Adult

    Broad-winged Hawk

    Adult
    • Smaller and even more compact than Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Short, broad wings with thin black outline
    • Dark, chocolate-brown barring on breast of adults
    • Black and white tail bands are thicker, less numerous than on Red-shouldered
    • © Gary Tyson, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, April 2011
  • Adult

    Cooper's Hawk

    Adult
    • Lankier proportions and more athletic build than Red-shouldered Hawk
    • Short, rounded wings barely reach halfway down long tail
    • Slaty blue/gray back and crown
    • Dark red or orange eyes
    • © Seth Reams, Portland, Oregon, October 2007
  • Juvenile

    Cooper's Hawk

    Juvenile
    • Short, rounded wings and long tail distinctive
    • Streamlined body shape
    • Crisp streaking on breast with heavily barred under-wings
    • Yellow eyes
    • © Gerry Dewaghe , October 2008
  • Adult

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Adult
    • Much smaller and chunkier than Red-shouldered
    • Dark blue/gray crown and back
    • Small bill
    • Dark red or orange eyes
    • © Larry Sarris, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, December 2008

Similar Species

Red-tailed Hawks are larger than Red-shouldered Hawks, with broader wings, and slower wingbeats. Adult Red-tails usually show a reddish top of the tail, a dark-streaked “belly band,” and pale wings with a dark bar at the leading edge. Adult Broad-winged Hawks have paler underwings with fewer, wider bands on the tail. Immature Red-shouldered Hawks can be tricky to identify. Immature Red-tails show a belly band and are less heavily marked on the upper chest than young Red-shouldered Hawks. Immature Broad-winged Hawks usually have less heavily marked underparts than Red-shouldered Hawks. Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are accipiters, not buteos, so they have a different shape—with much longer tails, more lanky proportions, and shorter wings than Red-shouldered Hawks.

Regional Differences

Red-shouldered Hawks in the Northeast tend to be brownish overall. Florida birds have very pale, grayish heads, while those in California are very richly colored with a rusty head.

Find This Bird

One of the best ways to find Red-shouldered Hawks is to learn their distinctive whistle. Listen for these birds in and around wet forests, where you may find them hunting from a perch along stream or pond. In spring you may see Red-shouldered Hawks circling high above their nesting territory; they usually show pale crescents near their wingtips, where the sun shines through.