What is a Red-Shouldered Hawk?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

A red-shouldered hawk, scientific name Buteo lineatus, is a medium sized bird of prey with reddish brown coloring on the shoulders. It is native to North America, often living in forested areas. The bird is primarily carnivorous and does its hunting during the day. The red-shouldered hawk usually nests in the trees, laying two to five eggs at a time.

An adult red-shouldered hawk is usually about 16.9 to 24 inches (43 to 61 cm) long, with a wingspan measuring approximately 37 to 43.7 inches (94 to 111 cm) across. It's considered a medium sized hawk and typically weighs about 17.1 to 27.3 ounces (486 to 774 g). It has the wide wingspan and solid body typical of many birds of prey, along with a sharp hooked beak and strong talons.

As suggested by its common name, the red-shouldered hawk has reddish markings on its shoulders with the rest of the wings and the tail striped white and black. Most of the bird's body is speckled brown, with reddish rusty colored markings on its pale underside. It has brown eyes, a dark colored beak, and yellow legs and feet.

Native to North America, the red-shouldered hawk lives in the eastern half of the U.S. and in western California and Mexico. It dwells mainly in mature forests near water sources such as rivers and wetlands. Preferred areas have tall mature trees with open space beneath. It tends to stay in an area year round, although those that live in far northern parts of its range migrate south in the winter.

As a bird of prey, the red-shouldered hawk is a carnivore with a diet consisting of small mammals such as mice, reptiles, amphibians, insects, crayfish, and smaller birds. It hunts during the day and usually perches high in a tree and swoops down on prey. It will also occasionally hunt from mid air while flying or on the ground, capturing creatures as they emerge from underground burrows.

Red-shouldered hawks usually build their large, bowl shaped nests in trees out of sticks, leaves, bark, moss, and other materials. The female lays two to five whitish eggs with brown speckles. The eggs are incubated for about 33 days before hatching. Newly hatched baby hawks are covered in pale fuzzy feathers and have their eyes open; they are helpless, however, and usually can't leave the nest for at least 40 to 45 days. Even after they leave the nest, they continue to depend on their parents for care until they are about 17 to 19 weeks old and become more self sufficient.

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