Spotlight On Ohio Birds

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Family: Accipitridae

Order: Accipitriformes

Description: 16-24″ (41-61 cm)  ADULT ssp. lineatus (the typical subspecies in east) Has mostly faintly barred reddish orange underparts, dark streaking on breast; vent feathers are whitish. Head is streaked brown, and feathers on upperparts are boldly marked with black, white, and brown; note the reddish “shoulders.” In flight, seen from below, body and wing coverts are barred pale reddish orange, while flight feathers and tail are barred black and white (black bands wider than the white); note pale bases to primaries, which form a narrow band. From above, reddish inner wing coverts (“shoulders”) and head contrast with otherwise dark plumage, but note the strongly barred tail. Southern subspecies are similar, but without streaks on breast. Florida ssp. extimus is very pale overall. Represented in California, outside region covered by this book, by ssp. elegans, which is more rufous overall and has wider tail bands. JUVENILE Recalls adult counterparts but is dark brown above and paler below, heavily streaked on breast, with dark-tipped primaries and more evenly barred tail.

Voice: Call a loud “kee-aah,” with second note descending in pitch. Often given repeatedly.

Habitat: Red-shouldered Hawks are forest raptors. In the East, they live in bottomland hardwood stands, flooded deciduous swamps, and upland mixed deciduous–conifer forests. They tend to live in stands with an open subcanopy, which makes it easier for them to hunt. They are not exclusively birds of deep forest, though; you’ll find Red-shouldered Hawks in some suburban areas where houses or other buildings are mixed into woodlands. In the West, they live in riparian and oak woodlands, and also in eucalyptus groves and some residential areas.

Nesting: Both male and female build the nest, or refurbish a prior year’s nest. Stick nests are about 2 feet in diameter and lined with bark, moss, lichens, and conifer sprigs. The parents continue to add fresh green leaves throughout the nesting season. Red-shouldered Hawks often reuse nests from past years. Scientists don’t know which sex originally selects the nest site, although the male typically arrives back at the nest site first and defends the territory until the female arrives. They typically place their nests in a broad-leaved tree (occasionally in a conifer), below the forest canopy but toward the tree top, usually in the crotch of the main trunk. Nest trees are often near a pond, stream, or swamp, and can be in suburban neighborhoods or parks.




  • Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk’s territory.
  • The Great Horned Owl often takes nestling Red-shouldered Hawks, but the hawk occasionally turns the tables. While a Red-shouldered Hawk was observed chasing a Great Horned Owl, its mate took a young owl out of its nest and ate it.
  • Red-shouldered Hawks return to the same nesting territory year after year. One Red-shouldered Hawk occupied a territory in southern California for 16 consecutive years.
  • By the time they are five days old, nestling Red-shouldered Hawks can shoot their feces over the edge of their nest. Bird poop on the ground is a sign of an active nest.
  • The Red-shouldered Hawk is divided into five subspecies. The four eastern forms contact each other, but the West Coast form is separated from the eastern forms by 1600 km (1000 mi). The northern form is the largest. The form in very southern Florida is the palest, having a gray head and very faint barring on the chest.
  • The oldest-known Red-shouldered hawk was at least 22 years, 5 months old. It was banded in Florida in 1989, and found dead in Florida in 2009, the victim of an attack by another raptor.

Resource material provided by:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/


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