Red-shouldered Hawks – Monogamous and Opportunistic Florida Residents

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is one of my favorites to watch, particularly during breeding season. This is when pairs circle together, heavily‑banded feathers stretched wide.

Red-shouldered Hawk wings are heavily banded. Photo by Andy Morffew.

The Red-shouldered prefers mature forest adjoining small areas of open land. My own neighborhood adjoins a section of forest, and Red-shouldereds routinely fly through the closely packed trunks and tangled branches at high rates of speed.

Although some Red-shouldered Hawks migrate, most of the birds in Florida are year-round residents. They are opportunistic, and feed on whatever food is available, including small mammals, other birds, amphibians, reptiles, large insects, crayfish, fish, and suet hung at bird feeders. Red-shouldered Hawks and Great Horned Owls are also known to steal chicks from one another’s nests.

Red-shouldered Hawk with Broad-head Skink (Eumeces laticeps), Recorded at Stokes Landing Conservation Area, St. Augustine, FL

One study in Iowa followed the dietary habits of nesting Red-shouldered Hawks. It documented that, during a drought year, 92% of the food brought to the nest consisted of small mammals. However, during a very wet year, 85% of the prey items were amphibians and arthropods.*

In Florida, breeding takes place January through May. Courtship lasts 18 days, during which time the pair establishes a 1/4 mile to 1 mile (0.4-1.16 km) territory. During nesting season, they will defend this area from other raptors, sometimes enlisting the help of American Crows, which are known for mobbing birds of prey.

The monogamous adults construct their two-foot (0.6 meter) nest mid-canopy, wedging their construction against a tree trunk. The nest is lined with soft material, such as Spanish moss, lichens, and sprigs of evergreen, and the same nest may be refurbished the following year.

The female lays one clutch of two to four eggs annually. She begins incubating when the first egg is laid, and incubation lasts approximately five weeks. Because some eggs are incubated longer than others, they hatch at different times. This means that some chicks will be much larger than their siblings and, in the scramble for food, younger birds may be pushed from the nest. The chicks keep their home clean by shooting their feces over the edge of the nest.

The female feeds the chicks food which is captured by the male, who brings offerings close to the nest and calls the female to him. When the young are able to tear the food apart by themselves, the female leaves the nest and helps with the hunting.

In 35-45 days, the chicks fledge. During this time, they are at risk of becoming prey to predators such as raccoons, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and owls. During their first year, Red-shouldered Hawks have a 42%-52% chance of survival.

After fledging, the parents continue to feed their offspring for two months or so. At roughly 4 months of age, the young are completely independent.

At two years, they are sexually mature and their survival rate improves to 75-80%.

In the wild, Red-shouldered Hawks live 10-15 years. In captivity they may live to be 20. However, the oldest captive bird lived to be over 30 years of age.

I recorded this Red-shouldered Hawk at Newnan’s Lake State Forest in Gainesville, Florida. Blue Jays can mimic the Red-shouldered’s call, although their voice is less robust.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Newnan’s Lake State Forest, Gainesville, FL

Cropped photo by Andy Morffew of Flickr

Red-shouldered Hawk, All About Birds
Red-shouldered Hawk, Hawk Mountain.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Red-shouldered Hawk, Outdoor Alabama.
Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo Lineatus, Wild South Florida.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Secret Garden Birds and Bees.
Red-shouldered Hawk, Madison Audubon, January 19, 2018.
WSU home to oldest red-tailed hawk on record, WSU Insider, Washington State University, November 14, 2011.
Jacobs, John P., Jacobs, Eugene A., Conservation Assessment for Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), USDA Forest Service Eastern Region, December 2002.*
*Bednarz, J.C. and J.J. Dinsmore. 1985. Flexible dietary response and feeding ecology of the red-shouldered hawk, Buteo lineatus, in Iowa. Can. Field-Nat. 99:262-264.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She has a passion for day-hiking and nature, and also enjoys writing. Be sure to visit the TenPaths YouTube channel, which is still in its infancy.

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