Last year I wrote about a summer resident in the Ada area, the broad-winged hawk.
This week’s featured creature — the red-shouldered hawk — is similar in appearance to the broad-winged. However, once you learn to tell the difference between the two, identifying this hawk will be an easy task.
Red-shouldered hawks are larger than broad-winged hawks and have a longer tail.
Red-shouldered hawks are permanent residents in the Ada area and are often more common in residential areas than in many other hawks, such as red-tailed hawks.
I’ve seen them at Wintersmith Park and while driving down many Ada streets. There is also one that lives near my home and has for quite a few years now.
Also, they’ll often allow humans to get closer to them than many other hawks.
I once saw a news report out of Tampa, Florida, where a pair of nesting hawks was dive-bombing residents in a suburban neighborhood.
The name of the report was “Red-shouldered Hawks on the Attack.” The talking heads at station said the “birds (were) terrorizing a family in their front yard,” but I don’t believe it was as bad as all that. But, you know, they have to make everything overly dramatic.
The hawks, when someone would walk under the tree, would swoop down and conk a person in the head with closed fists. It’s like a warning tap.
But it was a good report, as a wildlife expert was brought in. He said if you look up at the birds as you’re walking by, they will not dive at you. He said if a bird does dive at you, just throw your hands in the air. That will deter them.
Red-shouldered hawks have reddish colors that appear to be horizontal stripes across their breasts and bellies. This reddish coloring extends upward and outward, giving the birds reddish patagial bars, or “shoulders.”
This can be seen when the hawk spreads its wings in fight.
The red-shouldered hawk has striking black and white bars on its tail and the underneath of its wings, surrounding the dark patagial bars.
Its back is a mottled back and white, with a little reddish mixed in. To me, their back is like a layer of burned marshmallows!
It is a medium-sized hawk at about 17 to 20 inches from beak to tail, a few inches longer than the broad-winged.
Broad-winged hawks also have barring across the breast but it is bronze-colored, as is the head.
Typical habitat includes heavily forested areas, especially moist hardwoods. However, they also inhabit suburban areas.
Red-shouldered hawks often nest and hunt near water. They eat small animals such as mice, rats, voles, snakes, frogs and crayfish. They often perch on tree branches, fence posts and electrical wires, scanning the ground for movement of prey. Red-shouldered hawks then leap from their perch and glide silently down to grab up the unsuspecting food source.
Red-shouldered hawks can be found over the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma and Texas, northeast to Minnesota and all states east.
Red-shouldered hawks are monogamous and during their annual courtship, males put on a soaring spectacle involving twisting and turning through the air while diving. As a teen, I lived on a farm for a time, and I often sat on a hill and watched red-shouldered hawks flying above the valley below. Their calls often let me know spring had finally arrived. Ah, memories.
They only have one brood per year, as nesting is a long process for these birds.
Both male and female build nests, usually high in a tall tree, such as an oak or sycamore. The female will lay from two to four eggs and often spends the most time tending the nest, while the male hunts and brings back food. Occasionally, dad will tend to the eggs and nestlings, probably when mom needs a break.
Incubation time is an incredible 35 days or so. Nestlings fledge after about 40 to 50 days, and mom and dad will continue to feed them for another two months or so. I told you it was a long process!
Odds and ends
• The red-shouldered hawk’s sound is a screaming “kee-ahh,” often repeated in rapid succession during courtship and nesting. This sound would be familiar to farmers, as it is a common sound in the spring and summer. Bluejays can mimic this sound quite well, and it can be frustrating for a novice birder who has trouble distinguishing between the two.
• Red-shouldered hawk by day, barred owl by night? Yeah, sort of. Both birds occupy roughly the same range across the eastern United States and similar habitat. They also eat similar prey.
• According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known red-shouldered hawk was nearly 26 years old when she, after being banded in 1974, was captured and rereleased in 2000.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.