Photo: Andy Morffew
Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
Classification: Nongame Species
Abundance: Found statewide
Red-shouldered hawk (Photo by Ken Thomas)
Red-shouldered hawk with chicks (Photo by National Park Service)
The red-shouldered hawk is a fairly common bird in North Carolina. While most North Carolinians cannot identify this hawk by sight, many are familiar with its two-part call. The blue jay often imitates the red-shoulder’s scream, ‘’kee-ah kee-ah.” This bird of prey can live right in towns and suburbs, wherever it finds its favorite habitat—mature woods along streams and rivers and in swamps.
The red-shouldered hawk is a type of hawk that ornithologists term ‘’buteo.” Buteos have broad wings and wide tails that are usually banded. Like other buteos, the red-shouldered hawk likes to soar, but it flaps its wings more than the red-tailed hawk. In direct flight it beats its wings several times and then glides.
The red-shouldered hawk is a medium-sized hawk, smaller than the red-tailed hawk and larger than the broad-winged hawk. Adult red-shouldered hawks have a reddish, barred belly.
Field marks are the strongly barred black-and-white tail and upper wing feathers. This barring in the wing produces a translucent or light patch near the tip of the underwing. The male and female red-shouldered hawk have similar plumage, but the female is noticeably larger than the male. Other hawks show a similar size difference between the sexes.
Learn more by reading the Red-Shouldered Hawk species profile. (PDF)
The red-shouldered hawk is a nongame species with no open hunting season. Under federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone to injure, harass, kill or possess a bird of prey or any parts of a bird of prey. This includes harming or removing a nest. If you find an injured hawk, contact a licensed wildlife rehabiliator.
All hawk species in North Carolina are protected by federal and state law. It is illegal to kill, injure, or harass native hawks. It is also illegal to harm or destroy active hawk nests (eggs and/or nestlings present). Possession of live native hawks or any of their parts requires both state and federal permits.
Seeing a hawk on the ground does not necessarily mean it is injured. Hawks that have captured prey or found roadkill too heavy to carry will usually stay on the ground to eat. Unless there is a clear sign of injury or sickness, or a hawk is in immediate danger, there is no need for concern. Only licensed raptor rehabilitators can take in and care for orphaned or injured birds of prey, including owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and vultures. If you feel a hawk needs human help, or you need advice, contact a licensed raptor rehabilitator first.
Hawks sometimes take chickens that are not kept in a secure coop and run with overhead protection from aerial predators. Signs of hawk depredation include missing chickens or carcasses found with the breast feathers carefully plucked and the breast meat eaten. Providing overhead protection is the best way to protect your chickens from aerial predators; bright orange poultry netting, chicken tractors, and covered runs are all effective methods. Learn more about protecting backyard flocks from predators.
Hawks are devoted parents and can be protective of their young. On rare occasion, individual hawks have been known to swoop at people passing too close to the nest or young that are still learning to fly. In these situations, avoiding the immediate area for a few weeks, (or in the case young hawks outside the nest, 24 hours) can prevent issues. If the area must be approached during this time, an open umbrella or bike helmet can be used to provide head protection and avoid any possibility of injury.
Due to having hollow bones, birds are far lighter than they appear; the largest hawks in North Carolina only weigh about 3 pounds. While a hawk is unlikely to fly away with a pet, on very rare occasion they may dive after small dogs or cats. The best way to protect small pets from a variety of outdoor dangers is to keep them on a leash and supervise them closely whenever they are outside.
If you feel a problem situation involving a hawk justifies its physical removal and you have already tried the strategies listed above, please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services to learn about federal depredation permit options. Federal permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but Wildlife Services can provide guidance on the application process. Be aware, these permits are issued under very limited circumstances. Because hawks can fly, relocation is almost never effective; these permits involve allowing lethal removal of the birds. USDA Wildlife Services' toll free number is (866) 4USDA-WS (866-487-3297).
Red-Shouldered Hawk species profile (PDF)
Sandy Mush Game Land Birding Checklist (PDF)
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina Listings (PDF