Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
By Joni James
“Kee-aah” “Kee-aah” “Kee-aah” “Kee-aah” “Kee-aah”. Every spring this call rings out across my home area. It is the unmistakable emphatic call of one of our Buteo hawks– the red-shouldered hawk. They tend to be our more vocal hawk here. According to Birds of the World (available free through your IAS membership), this vocalization is usually repeated 5-12 times as a territorial call. Once incubation commences the hawks become less vocal but it is often used as an alarm call also. Interestingly, the female’s calls are lower in pitch than male calls.
Adult Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) are identified by their reddish brown/rusty colored shoulder patches, black and white wings and when in flight (from underneath when backlit), the crescent-shaped, translucent panel of the outer primary feathers of the wings. The tail is fairly long and has several dark bars alternating narrow white bars with a white tip. They are also long legged.
It is the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks that can be confusing. They are often challenging to identify between the juveniles of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo) and Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter). Juvenile plumage is held for the first year and look nothing like the adults. The dark malar mark is bold. The best advice is to study photographs and illustrations of these first-year birds and compare them to Red-tailed Hawk juveniles to increase your identification skills. Spend time in the field and on IAS field trips.
Red-shouldered Hawks inhabit wet areas—the same as their night-time counterpart, the Barred Owl. Upland and lowland riparian areas with creeks, streams, ponds, marshes and swamps as well as suburban areas near riparian areas are preferred. Their diet is varied and includes small mammals, birds, as well as snakes and frogs.
Courtship displays are thrilling behaviors to witness and tend to last approximately eighteen days. The male and female circle each other calling with wings and tails spread. They will fly close to each other and then separate. The male performs a sky-dance in which he soars upward while calling. He makes a series of steep dives when the female appears. Each dive is followed by a rapid ascent via wide spirals. It was found in one study that these displays tended to occur between 11:00 -13:00 am on clear days.
Nests are usually reused year to year and are located halfway up a tree in a crotch of the main trunk. The male and female share nest building and remodeling tasks using dead and live twigs and adding greenery from conifers. Most building occurs during the early morning. Incubation is thirty-three days per egg and both sexes incubate, although the female does the majority. The male delivers food to the female. Brooding and actual feeding of young is by the female who may assist the male in hunting late in the nestling stage. Young leave the nest at about 6 weeks of age. Not much is known about the immature stage but parents may continue to feed them for 8-10 weeks after fledging.
Enjoy these beautiful hawks and watch for them near wet areas. In spring you are likely to hear them before you see them!