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Red-shouldered Hawk

In my estimation, the Red-shouldered Hawk is the best-looking raptor in eastern North America. Adults are stunning, with their underparts barred with rich reddish-orange, bold tail alternated with prominent bands of black and white, and multi-toned wings with their namesake reddish shoulder patches.

This is also a hawk on the upswing; good news in a world all too full of stories of declines in the avian world. A century ago, ornithologists viewed Buteo lineatus as the most common hawk in Ohio. By the early 1900's declines were already being noted, though, and through much of the 20th century Red-shouldereds plummeted in numbers in many areas.
Red-shouldered Hawk distribution, from the first Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas (1982-87)

Red-shouldered Hawk data gathered during the 2006 and 2007 breeding seasons, courtesy of Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II. Although this represents but two years - there are three more atlas seasons to go - things are looking decidedly rosier for Red-shouldereds than in the days of yore.

The reason for their disappearance isn't hard to fathom. Red-shouldered Hawks are birds of mature forests, particularly lowland woods along streams and bottomlands. As rampant deforestation reduced timber in Ohio to all-time lows in the early to mid 1900's, the hawks were displaced. As Ohio's forests continue to rebound and mature, the Red-shouldered Hawk is also recovering. Many urban/suburban areas also are growing taller and greener silviculturally speaking, and the woodsiest communities are also seeing Red-shouldered Hawks moving to town. We have a number of pairs now right here in Columbus.

However, Red-shouldereds are at peak abundance in the hill country of eastern and southern Ohio. There, they are often the most common Buteo. Last Saturday, I participated in the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count and covered a rural region east of Logan. One of the first birds that I saw was a beautiful pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, and we went on to find five more, and that in spite of a count shortened by unfortunate car problems.

I think they like each other. Gorgeous pair of Red-shouldered Hawks sitting on power lines just south of Lake Logan, Hocking County. The resurgence of this magnificent raptor in Ohio is truly a bright spot in our state's bird life.


Tom said…
Jim, that is a pretty sweet picture of the pair of hawks. Are they a male and a female? Usually I see hawks by themselves.

MDK said…
Jim, I saw my first Red-shouldered hawk two days ago. There were two of them sitting in a tree, so my husband turned the car around and I took a few pics. When I got home I saw where one had taken flight and I caught that red shoulder. I remembered your article and I looked them up in my field guide. Do they stay together in pairs? Thanks for the article.
nina said…
I found, sadly, a dead Red shouldered hawk, laying frozen in the snow this morning in our woods. There doesn't seem to be any "foul play"--what's up?
Stephen Brown said…
We moved from California to Akron 3 years ago. Recently two red-shouldered hawks have set up their home at the back of ours on 2 1/4 acres. Wanted to give each a fancy name--Aphrodite and Zeus--but settled on Nick and Nora. So far we have observed the mating/dating flight, watch Nick stand guard as Nora collected twigs & such to make their nest, swoop down on the unluckiest squirrel in the world, and soar throughout the neighborhood. Great to watch! How, though, can we assure ourselves of perpetual hawks on/near our property?

Stephen Brown
Anonymous said…
Took a picture today of a red shouldered hawk sitting on an old bell high up in our backyard...Loveland, Ohio
We live along the Little Miami River.
Ann Riggs said…
Today I saw a red shouldered hawk sitting on a shepherd's hook near my home in Westerville. I had never seen one before--it sat with it's back to me and the markings are quite striking. Wish I could have gotten a picture.

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