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Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
Buteo lineatus

This common forest-dwelling hawk is often seen soaring and calling loudly and repeatedly. It may be the most vocal of American hawks, but since a Blue Jay can imitate a Red-shouldered Hawk remarkably well, care must be used when identifying this bird by voice alone. This hawk generally hunts from a perch, waiting for its prey to reveal itself, and then swooping down to snatch it from the ground or water surface. The Red-shouldered Hawk is found in woodlands near water in the eastern United States and in California. They spend the non-breeding season throughout much of that range below the Canadian border.

Description: The Red-shouldered Hawk is a fairly large hawk, with black and white striped wings and tail, a mottled brown back, and orange barring on the breast. The "red-shoulder" is actually rust colored and not always obvious. In flight from above, the rusty wing-coverts contrast with the black-and-white striped flight feathers; from below when backlit, there is a translucent crescent-shaped panel in the outer primaries of the wing. During their first year, birds have brown upperparts, streaked brown and white underparts, and a tail with dark and light brown bands. Males and females look alike, but the female is larger.
Length: 17"
Wingspan: 40"
Weight: 1.4 lbs.

Voice: Often calls in a series of descending keeyuur screams, similar to a Blue Jay.

Similar Species:

  • Broad-winged Hawks have broader black and white tailbands, and pale under wings that contrast with a dark outside boarder.

Habitat: Mature, mixed moist deciduous-coniferous woodlands, especially bottomland hardwood, riparian areas, and flooded deciduous swamps.

Diet: Small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and crayfish.

Nesting and reproduction: Pairs return to breeding territories in January and February, and soar in circles high over their territories calling loudly.

Clutch Size: Usually 3 eggs, occasionally 2 to 4.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 28 days. The male supplies her and the young with nearly all of their food until the young near fledging.

Fledging: Young leave the nest at about 6 weeks of age, but may continue to be fed by their parents for another 8 to10 weeks.

Nest: The nest is usually placed below the canopy in a main fork of a tall, mature, deciduous tree close to water. Both the male and female construct the nest of sticks and line it with twigs or leaves. The nest may be used in subsequent years, with new lining added. Nest heights in Tennessee average 45' and range from 25' to 65' above the ground.

Status in Tennessee: The Red-shouldered Hawk is a permanent resident and found throughout most of the state. It was listed as In Need of Management from 1976 until 1994 because of concerns over range-wide declines. However, in Tennessee, the Red-shouldered Hawk population appears to have been increasing since the 1960s. The wintering population is composed of non-migratory resident birds and birds from more northern breeding areas.

Dynamic map of Red-shouldered Hawk eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • By the time they are 5 days old, nestling Red-shouldered Hawks can shoot their feces over the edge of their nest. Bird poop on the ground is a sign of an active nest.
  • The Red-shouldered Hawks and the Barred Owls occupy the same range in the eastern United States. They prefer the same moist woodland habitats and eat similar animals. The hawk is active during the day, and the owl is active at night.

Obsolete English Names: elegant hawk, winter hawk, red-bellied hawk

Best places to see in Tennessee: Red-shouldered Hawks breed throughout much of the state where there is deciduous forest near open water and clearings.

For more information:


Dykstra, C.R., J.L. Hays and S.T. Crocoll. 2008. Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.

Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.

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