Red-Shouldered Hawk

Photo of a red-shouldered hawk perched on a tree branch.
Scientific Name
Buteo lineatus
Accipitridae (hawks and eagles) in the order Accipitriformes

The red-shouldered hawk is 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.


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

Where To Find
Red Shouldered Hawk Distribution Map


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.

This hawk, like other buteo hawks, usually forages from a perch or by soaring overhead.

They typically 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.

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.

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.

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.

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Similar Species
About Birds in Missouri

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.