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.
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.