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What Time is it in Nature: Red-shouldered Hawk

August 2, 2013

We’ve had a great visitor at Prairie Ridge recently!  A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) has been spotted in our forest several times over the last few days, whizzing overhead on the wing or sitting in the trees.

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawks are stocky, medium-sized hawks.  The adults are colorful, with reddish barred breasts and red patches at the shoulders.  The wings are checked with dark and light patches and the underside of the tail, fanned in flight, is dark with light bands.  Juveniles, like the one we’ve seen flying at Prairie Ridge, have little to no red coloring on the breast or shoulders and have paler bellies, wing patterns, and tails than the adults.  At any age, however, Red-shouldered Hawks are instantly recognizable in flight as they have pale crescents of translucent feathers near the wing tips.  You can also recognize them by their sharp calls.

These birds are commonly spotted in forested areas containing water, such as rivers or swamps.  During the mating season, unattached males will do a “sky dance” to court a female.  Red-shouldered Hawk pairs will then cooperatively build or refurbish a stick nest in the crotch of a tree near the treetop and line it with soft materials such as lichens, moss, and sprigs of conifer.  They typically only have one brood of 2-5 eggs per year and pairs will typically return to the same nesting site year to year.

Red-shouldered Hawks feed primarily on mammals, but have been recorded eating reptiles, amphibians, crayfish, and (rarely) birds.  The hawks typically sit on a branch and watch for prey, swooping down very quickly from the perch to snatch the animal from the ground.  They can be fiercely territorial, chasing crows and owls from their nesting and hunting areas and sometimes even coming to blows with other hawks.  However, they have also been observed teaming up with crows to chase owls from their territories, an interesting cooperative behavior with a bird it regularly chases away.

Our Red-shouldered Hawk has been spotted repeatedly in the forest along the Forest Trail and often sits in the trees near the trailer.  Come on out and see it!  You’ll hear it calling from time to time and can see it swooping through the forest or flying over the prairie.  Perhaps you’ll even be lucky enough to see it hunt!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photo by Chris Goforth)

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