Red-Shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk perched on a tree branch.
Red-shouldered hawks are long-winged and long-tailed compared to most hawks of the Buteo genus.
Jim Rathert
Family

Accipitridae (hawks and eagles) in the order Falconiformes

Description

Long-winged and long-tailed compared to most hawks of the Buteo genus. Adults have rusty shoulders and rusty barring on the breast. The wings are checkered black and white, and the tail is strongly patterned: black with narrow white bars. Soaring individuals, lit from above, have a light crescent near the wingtips (at the middle of the primary wing feathers) and have rounded wingtips. Immature birds are brown above and heavily streaked below. The KEyar-KEyar-KEyar call of this species is often imitated by blue jays.

Similar species: Red-tailed hawks (with their rusty-brown, barred tails) are a bit more common, and juvenile red-tails can be confused with red-shouldered hawks. Young red-tails have shorter tails that are brown with black bars, they are less mottled with white above (except on the shoulders), and they are larger than red-shouldered hawks (adult red-tails have a 50-inch wingspan). Broad-winged hawks are smaller, shorter-necked, stockier, browner, with rusty bars on the breast.

Size

Length: 19 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan 40 inches.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk in a tree with autumn leaves.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered hawks sit on tree branches and watch for movement on the ground.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk closeup on head and breast.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Adult red-shouldered hawks have rusty shoulders and rusty barring on the breast.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk perched on a solar panel.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Suburban red-shouldered hawks can grow accustomed to people can be observed easily.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk perched on a small tree branch.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
The red-shouldered hawk is associated with forests and near water, in places where the lower part of the forest canopy is fairly open.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk on a small branch, fluffing out its feathers.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
As a permanent resident in Missouri, the red-shouldered hawk is uncommon in southern Missouri and rare in the north.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk on its nest.
Red-Shouldered Hawk And Nest
Red-shouldered hawks often reuse a nest for several years.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk on its nest.
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Both the female and the male red-shouldered hawk construct (or refurbish) their nest.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk nest with nestlings.
Red-Shouldered Hawk Nestlings
Young red-shouldered hawks fledge about 40–50 days after hatching. There is only one brood a year.

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Photo of a red-shouldered hawk nest with nestlings.
Red-Shouldered Hawk Nestlings
A typical red-shouldered hawk clutch comprises 2–5 eggs, which are incubated for a month to about 40 days. Then the young hatch.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawk perched on a board. It's feathers are ruffled by the wind.
Red-shouldered hawk
Habitat and conservation

Residents forage near their nests along forested streams and rivers. This hawk is generally associated with forests and near water, in places where the lower part of the forest canopy is fairly open, giving the perched hawk a good view of the ground. Sometimes also lives in suburban neighborhoods and parks, where sufficient forestland is nearby.

Foods

This hawk, like other buteo hawks, usually forages from a perch or by soaring overhead. They sit on tree branches, telephone poles, or fence posts and watch for movement on the ground. Once prey is sighted, they dive directly onto it or glide in from the side. Because buteos are less agile than accipiters (such as Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks), their diet includes a smaller percentage of birds. Small mammals such as rodents make up a majority of the food, but reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans (such as crayfish), and insects are also eaten.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

As a permanent resident, uncommon in southern Missouri and rare in the north. In winter, more frequently seen in the Ozarks and forested parts of the Mississippi Lowlands. As a migrant, uncommon statewide and rare in the western quarter.

Life cycle

Nests can be reused several years in a row and are usually built in deciduous trees, below the crown but in a main branch of the trunk, often near water. Both the female and the male construct (or refurbish) the nest out of sticks and line it with moss, leaves, bark, and other softer materials. A clutch comprises 2–5 eggs, which are incubated for a month to about 40 days. The young fledge about 40–50 days after hatching. There is only 1 brood a year.

Human connections

Red-shouldered hawks sometimes nest near people’s homes or in suburban parks, if there is sufficient woodland or forest habitat nearby. In these situations, the hawks can grow accustomed to people can be observed easily.

Ecosystem connections

This and other raptors naturally control the populations of rodents and the other animals they eat. Rodents typically have many and large litters, and the average mortality of their young is quite high. Their “surplus” population feeds the predators, while the predators save them from overpopulating.