Red-Shouldered Hawk

I get a kick out of the Red-Shouldered Hawk.  Everything can be so peaceful, the birds are singing and the squirrels are playing. Red-Shouldered Hawk|Los Alamos Park|Los Alamos, CA   Suddenly, there is a piercing scream and through the trees comes a Red-Shouldered Hawk. It takes only a moment for me to realize that not a bird or squirrel is in sight any more.  Now I ask you, how does the Red-Shouldered Hawk catch anything with all that screaming going on?


Red-Shouldered Hawks are medium-sized hawks. Adult birds have brownish heads, reddish chests, and their backs are mottled brown and white in a checkerboard pattern.  They have pale bellies marked with a bars, orange-colored shoulder patches and orange wing linings.  Their wings are broad, and like their backs, also have a checkered pattern. There is a translucent crescent patch near the wing tips that can be seen when the hawk is flying.  Their tails are long and broad, with narrow white bands on both sides of the dark tail. These hawks have yellow legs and feet, and short hooked bills. Their legs are longer than some hawks so they stand more vertically when they are on the ground. The females are larger and heavier than the males. Immature birds are duller colored, with more vertical light brown streaks below.

Range and Habitat

Red-Shoulderd Hawks, in the northern area of their range, are partial migrants; they migrate to Mexico in the winter.  Many Red-Shouldered Hawks are permanent residents.  There are 3 species of these hawks in the United States.  They are found in the east as well as in Florida, and the southwest.  California birds are brighter orange in color than the east coast birds.  Their habitat is woodlands, often close to open areas and water.


They often hunt from a perch on a tree which allows them to swoop down and catch their prey. They eat mostly rodents such as voles, mice and chipmunks. Large insects, small birds, bird’s eggs, and some reptiles and amphibians are also taken.   Their call is a loud two syllable scream which is repeated two or three times.  This scream sounds like “keeyar” and carries a long distance. The Red-Shouldered Hawks in California sound similar to eastern birds but their calls are sharper and higher pitched.  They will sometime collaborate with American Crows to mob Great Horned Owls and Red-Tailed Hawks, but they are not well liked birds because of their habit of stealing young birds and eggs from other specie’s nests.  They hold their wings straight out as they fly; their flight is like more like an accipiter, with several quick wing beats and then a glide.

Breeding and Nesting

Red-Shouldered Hawks do not breed until they are at least one year old.  They are considered monogamous.  Their courtship display consists of soaring circles with much calling and diving.  Males may soar high into the air and perform steep dives and spirals before making a rapid climb back into the sky.  The nest is a platform of sticks in a tall woodland tree.  They may use the same nest each year or just simply refurbish the old one. The female lays 2-4 eggs. Both parents protect the nest.  The female incubates while the male brings food to the female to eat.  Incubation lasts 28-33 days with 7 days between the first chick and the last chick hatching.  Both parents brood and feed the nestlings for about 40 days.  The young leave the nest around 60 days but are still dependent on their parents for 17-19 weeks.

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