The Red-shouldered Hawk is the first raptor to be named Wake Audubon’s Bird of the Year. This species of hawk was first described (originally as Falco lineatus) by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. Its current scientific name, Buteo lineatus, means ‘lined buzzard.’ Raptors in the genus Buteo are typically called ‘hawks’ in the U.S. and ‘buzzards’ in Europe. The name lineatus may refer to the red-brown streaking on the breast and/or the alternating black and white bands on the tail. The common name refers to the hawk’s red-brown shoulders. Immature birds’ breasts have brown streaks and these birds lack the red shoulders. They are often heard calling as they soar overhead. Here is an audio file courtesy of National Audubon Society.
Red-shoulderd Hawks are familiar year-round residence of North Carolina. They live in wooded areas with open underscores, including suburban areas with significant deciduous tree cover. The male and female build their nest towards the tops of trees near the main branch. They prefer to nest near streams, ponds or wetlands. They will use the same nest from year to year, refurbishing it as needed. The nest is made of large sticks lined with moss, lichens, and leaves. The female lays 2-5 eggs. Both sexes incubate the eggs and care of the young, which hatch after a little over a month incubation. Baby birds fledge five to six weeks after hatching. Hawks perch in trees and when they spot prey, they drop down to catch it. The hawks’ diet consists primarily of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds.
The Red-shoudered Hawk population has remained relatively stable over the last several decades. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.1 million with 97% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 17% in Mexico, and 1% breeding in Canada. The main threat to these hawks is loss of forested areas.