Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
43-61 cm (17-24 in)
91-121 cm (3-4 ft)
453-680 g (1 to 1.5 lbs)
Red-shouldered Hawk

Amy Bracy

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Did You Know?

  • Some researchers consider the Red-shouldered Hawk to be the diurnal counterpart to the Barred Owl. Both birds occupy the same range in the eastern United States, prefer the same moist woodland habitats, and eat similar animals. The hawk is active during the day, and the owl is active at night.
  • Buteo hawks are referred to as buzzards in other parts of the world. The name was mistakenly applied to vultures in North America by the early settlers.


Other Hawks

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

Though The Peregrine Fund doesn't work directly with Red-shouldered Hawks, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve birds of prey around the world. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.

Where They Live

Red-shouldered Hawks occupy the eastern half of North America from southern Canada to Florida, as well as western California and Baja, Mexico. This gorgeous raptor isn't too picky when it comes to finding a place to live. It occupies a wide range of habitats from  moist and riparian forests, to wooded swamps, open deciduous or mixed forests, eucalyptus plantations, and even in suburban areas that have wooded lots nearby.

What They Do

As you have probably guessed, a Red-shouldered Hawk must have red "shoulders" of some sort. But, do birds even have shoulders and if so, where are they? The shoulder generally refers to the area of the scapula and humerus bones. In the case of this hawk, its upper wing coverts are a rufous-red color, which gives this bird its name. There is some variation in plumage between the birds found in the eastern part of their range and those found in the west. In general, all Red-shouldered Hawks have long, barred tails, beautiful black and white flight feathers, and the distinctive reddish barring on their upperparts. 

Like many Buteos, this hawk spends quite a bit of time soaring on wide, outstretched wings. It often holds its tail outstretched when soaring as well. 

Some individuals, mainly those living in the northernmost range, do migrate between 300-1,500 km during fall and spring.

Scientists studying this hawk have described it as being an aggressive defender of its territory and nest. It will vocalize, stoop, and even make physical contact with anything it perceives as a threat. Biologists have seen the Red-shouldered Hawk chase off some pretty large birds of prey including Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and Great-horned Owl. 

Why They Need our Help

Thankfully, the Red-shouldered Hawk appears to be doing quite well. They are common throughout their range, and thanks to their ability to adapt to urban development, their population appears to be increasing at the north end of the range in the western United States. Currently, the IUCN lists this hawk as a species of Least Concern. 

What They Eat

This hawk, like many birds of prey, has a long list of animals on its menu. It will take small mammals such as voles, mice, and shrews. It will also prey on birds, snakes, frogs, lizards, fish, crayfish, spiders, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, and earthworms. 

In order to catch a wide variety of prey, it must utilize different hunting techniques depending on which prey it hopes to catch. In open areas, researchers have observed this bird flying very low to the ground in an attempt to get close to its quarry and surprise it.  It has also been observed perching and waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by. When it does, this hawk flies directly at its quarry at top speed. It sometimes captures prey from the surface of water, or waits near animal burrows to catch small mammals as they emerge. 

Nest, Eggs, and Young

Like most hawks, the Red-shouldered Hawk builds a nest made of sticks and twigs, generally mid-way up in a tree. They often choose to nest in an area near a water body.

Once the nest is built, the pair will line it with soft leaves, mosses, and lichens. But that's not all! Researchers have found some other interesting items inside Red-shouldered Hawk nests including ears of corn, tissue paper, songbird nests, straw, twine, and even plastic bags. Sometimes, Red-shouldered Hawks will re-use the same nest for many years in a row. 

When the time is right, the female will lay 2-5 eggs that must be incubated for 33 days. Though both the male and the female will take on incubation duties, the female does the bulk of the work caring for the eggs at this stage. But don't worry - the male remains quite busy too. He has the important job of catching enough food for himself and the female during this time. 

Even after the nestlings hatch, the female will remain close to the nest to guard her young. Several species will predate on the eggs and young of this hawk. Great-horned Owls and raccoons pose some of the greatest threats to these nesting hawks. Other potential nest predators include Red-tailed Hawks and martens. 

When the nestlings hatch, they are covered in fluffy down. But they will grow quickly, especially during their first three weeks of life. By the time they are around 5-6 weeks old, they will be developed enough to fledge, or fly from the nest for the first time. However, the nestlings will remain in their parents' territory for a few more months as they learn to hunt and avoid danger. 

Red-tailed Hawks become adults at 2 years of age.

Red-Shouldered Hawks and the World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes await you on your visit. Though we don't have any Red-shouldered  Hawks on our Avian Ambassadors team, you can meet a few live hawks up close including a Red-tailed Hawk and a Swainson's Hawk. There is also a touch table with owl feathers and other natural objects available for exploration. 


BirdLife International. 2016. Buteo lineatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22695883A93531542. Downloaded on 11 August 2021.

Dykstra, C. R., J. L. Hays, and S. T. Crocoll (2020). Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus. Downloaded from on 7 Aug. 2021