Squam Lakes Natural Science Center - Nearer To Nature
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Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Buteo
Species: B. lineatus

Fast Facts

Red-shouldered hawkLifespan: typically up to 5 years in the wild (banding record 19 years 11 months)
Size: 38-42 inch wingspan; weight 1..25-1.75 pounds
Eggs Laid: 3-4 eggs
Flight Speed: 18-34 mph
Status: No special status at this time, but there is evidence of decline in population

What do Red-shouldered Hawks look like?
Red-shouldered Hawks belong to a group of hawks called “Buteos” or soaring hawks.  Buteos have a chunky appearance, with broad wings and fan-shaped tails. Red-shouldered Hawks have a brown head, a dark brown back and reddish brown finely barred under parts. The Red-shouldered Hawk gets its name from reddish brown feathers on their upper wings giving the bird the appearance of having red shoulders, although this part of the wing is actually the hawk’s wrist. Their tails are dark brown/black with narrow white bands.  

Where are Red-shouldered Hawks found?
Red-shouldered hawks breed throughout the eastern United States, northeast into southern Canada, and west of the Sierra Nevada in California. Populations of this hawk in the northeast migrate to northern Mexico for the wintertime. Red-shouldered hawks usually live in deciduous or mixed deciduous-conifer forests and swamps. They like to perch on dead trees to observe and hunt animals on the forest floor. You may be able to locate them by one of their common calls, “keeyuur, keeyuur”

What do Red-shouldered Hawks eat?
Red-shouldered hawks prey mostly on small mammals, no larger than a rabbit or squirrel. They will also eat snakes, toads, frogs, small birds, and large insects.

What special adaptations do Red-shouldered Hawks have?
Sense of sight is highly developed in these hawks and they are able to spot prey from a great distance. Their strong, sharp talons are used to grasp and kill prey while their beaks function in tearing prey apart. Their broad wings allow them to soar effortlessly for long periods of time.

How do Red-shouldered Hawks raise their young?
Red-shouldered hawks will often use the same nest year after year. The male and the female will work together to build or renovate the nest. The nest is built of sticks, bark, leaves, twigs and green sprigs. The hawks breed between April and July and incubation is 33 days. The young birds will fly about 6 weeks after hatching, although they will not become completely independent for another 10 weeks.

Fun Facts!

  • Red-shouldered Hawk’s eyes change color as they age. They have yellow eyes when they are young, and brown eyes as adults!
  • This eye color change is not as accurate a way to judge the age of the birds as changes in plumage, but eye color change does occur in many different hawks.