Photo Credit: Jeffrey S. Johnson;

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Buteo lineatus

STATUS: Breeder. Fairly common in all seasons and regions. Low Conservation Concern.

DESCRIPTION: The red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium sized raptor that is 16 to 18 inches in length and has roughly a 40-inch wingspan.  This hawk tends to be dark brown to black on top with rufous colored shoulders.  Its belly is pale to white in color with rufous barring.  The tail is black with white barring.  In flight, this raptor’s under wing coverts are rufous colored and the primary and secondary flight feathers are dark brown to black with white barring.  Both males and females are similar and the young are sometimes mistaken for the red-tailed hawk.  This bird is very vocal and its call sounds like “keeyuur.”  Blue jays sometimes mimick red-shouldered hawks. 

DISTRIBUTION: The red-shouldered hawk ranges year round from the Gulf of Mexico north to southern Canada and the AtlanticCoast westward to eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma.  There is also a small population along the Pacific Coast of California.  Some birds use the eastern coast of Mexico as a wintering ground.  There are small, rare populations in the west central portion of the U.S. and Baja, California.

HABITAT: The red-shouldered hawk inhabits bottomland hardwoods and mixed pine hardwood stands with small scattered openings and water sources.  These openings could be power line rights-of-way, small fields, clear cuts, or even woods roads.

FEEDING HABITS: Buteo lineatus hunts for food primarily by sitting on a perch along open areas watching for movement.  Once prey is spotted, the hawk will dive down and grab the prey with its talons.  Red-shouldered hawks feed primarily on small mammals but will sometimes substitute birds, amphibians, and reptiles into their diet.

LIFE HISTORY: The red-shouldered hawk is typically a monogamous breeder.  Both sexes help construct the nest and tend to use the same nest year after year.  The nests are typically found in the top of hardwoods or pines and are usually 20 to 100 feet off the ground.  The nest is large and deep, and constructed with sticks, grass, shredded bark, leaves, green sprigs, and other similar material.  Two to three white eggs with brown or lavender blotches are laid once a year between April and July.  Incubation will start after the first or second egg is laid and will last anywhere from 28 to 33 days.  Each egg will hatch at a different time.  Once hatched, it will take 39 to 45 days for chicks to be fledged and ready to leave the nest.  However, fledged chicks are still fed by the adults for another nine to ten weeks.  It usually takes approximately 17 to 19 weeks from hatching for the young to become completely independent of the adults.  Sexual maturity is reached when the bird is approximately one year old. Average life span for red-shouldered hawks is 24 to 26 months.


Gough, G.  “Buteo lineatus”(Online), US Geological Survey.  Accessed on May 24, 2005 at

Imhof, T. A. 1976.  Alabama Birds.  U of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa, Al. 137-38pp.

Miller, S. and K. Kirschbaum. 2000. “Buteo Lineatus”(Online), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed on June 13, 2005 at information/Buteo_lineatus.html

Author: Griff Johnson, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.