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Red-shouldered Hawk Life History


ForestsRed-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 subcanopy, which makes it easier for them to hunt. They are not exclusively birds of deep forest, though; you’ll 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. Back to top


MammalsRed-shouldered Hawks eat mostly small mammals, lizards, snakes, and amphibians. They hunt from perches below the forest canopy or at the edge of a pond, sitting silently until they sight their prey below. Then they descend swiftly, gliding and snatching a vole or chipmunk off the forest floor. They also eat toads, snakes, and crayfish. They occasionally eat birds, sometimes from bird feeders; recorded prey include sparrows, starlings, and doves.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeRed-shouldered Hawks often reuse nests from past years. Scientists don’t know which sex originally selects the nest site, although the male typically arrives back at the nest site first and defends the territory until the female arrives. They typically place their nests in a broad-leaved tree (occasionally in a conifer), below the forest canopy but toward the tree top, usually in the crotch of the main trunk. Nest trees are often near a pond, stream, or swamp, and can be in suburban neighborhoods or parks.

Nest Description

Both male and female build the nest, or refurbish a prior year’s nest. Stick nests are about 2 feet in diameter and lined with bark, moss, lichens, and conifer sprigs. The parents continue to add fresh green leaves throughout the nesting season.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.1-2.2 in (5.24-5.65 cm)
Egg Width:1.6-1.7 in (4.16-4.39 cm)
Incubation Period:32-40 days
Nestling Period:42-49 days
Egg Description:Dull white or faint bluish with brown blotches and markings
Condition at Hatching:Thickly covered with down; an even thicker down grows soon after hatching.
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Aerial Dive (ground/talons)Red-shouldered hawks soar and circle with wings and tail spread out like a typical buteo hawk, but they also flap their wings quickly and glide through forests underneath the canopy, the way an accipiter such as Cooper’s Hawk does. When hunting, they perch near a wooded water body and watch for their prey to appear below them. In populated areas, such as forested suburban developments, they can become very unconcerned and approachable by people, but in wilder areas they flush easily. On their territories, Red-shouldered Hawks are aggressive, sometimes locking talons with intruding hawks and also attacking crows, Great Horned Owls, and even humans. As a mating display, the male enacts a “sky dance” in which he soars while calling, then makes a series of steep dives toward the female, climbing back up in wide spirals after each descent, before finally rapidly diving to perch upon the female’s back.Back to top


Low Concern

Red-shouldered Hawk populations increased over 2% per year throughout most of their range between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.9 million and rates the species 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. The biggest threat to Red-shouldered Hawks is continued clearing of their wooded habitat.

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Crossley, R., J. Liguori, and B. Sullivan. (2013). The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Princeton University Press, New Jersery, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Dykstra, Cheryl R., Jeffrey L. Hays and Scott T. Crocoll. (2008). Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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