Red-shouldered hawk photographed on January 26, 2011, Phippsburg, Maine
Red-shouldered hawks are often confused with the Red-tailed Hawk, another species of hawk seen in the photos below.
"Are you looking at my red tail? Flashy, isn't it?"
Red-tailed hawk photographed in Maine in 2009
The top two photographs were taken through my living room windows yesterday. When the bird landed in the tree, I was still in my bathrobe sitting in front of my computer. I had been sitting there for hours deep in concentration. Nonetheless, in my peripheral vision I sensed, more than saw, the movement across the sky. I leaped up, grabbed the camera and slammed off some shots before it disappeared. My brain immediately said "Red-tailed hawk," but I quickly realized it was not. My brain also said "Ouch! My back!"
It took study to identify this as a Red-shouldered hawk. I have seen and written about Red-shouldered hawks before, but it seemed an unlikely bird in the winter. The Northeastern populations migrate to Mexico. The last Red-shouldered hawk recorded in this county was in October of 2010. This raptor eats rodents: moles, voles and mice and some snakes, creatures which are hiding under the snow now. But, there are plenty of Red squirrels in our spruce woods (and my bird feeders) and the Red-shouldered will also hunt other birds. It's avian brethren aren't its favorites though, nor is it built for bird tagging speed. This hawk sits on perches as seen here then swoops to the ground to grab its prey. Sometimes they snatch birds and large insects from mid air. They also hunt on the ground for burrowing critters and will hop along after a target, an unusual behavior for hawks.
So why was this hawk still here since most of its favored foods have disappeared? We don't know. So, I'm going to guess that it's a bad procrastinator with a major case of denial. It just waited too long dilly dallying around on the Maine coast. I have great empathy for
this; I was able to see the bird because I have the sameproblems. I photographed it after noon and I was still in my bathrobe. Yet again, I too had failed to migrate to the next venue. My laundry still wasn't done; my kitchen was a mess and bills still needed to be paid.
I'm ashamed to admit this, but two of my favorite TV shows these days are The Biggest Loser and Hoarders. I've been trudging along on a weight loss journey for the past year and along the way, I've found The Biggest Loser inspirational. There's a lot of whiny drama, theirs and mine, but some useful tips, too.
The people in Biggest Loser and Hoarders share in common that their lives are completely out of control. The contestants have stuffed their faces and bloated their bodies to a medical diagnosis of super, morbid obesity. The Hoarders are stuffocating on the stuff around them until their homes have become uninhabitable junk heaps. Denial and procrastination got them all there one newspaper pile and one Twinkies at a time.
Viewers of these shows probably fall into two categories: those who feel differentiated and thus, safer in contrast to what they see, and those who feel communality with what they see. I fall into the latter category. I watch those shows and think "Oh God, that could so easily be me!" It gets me on the treadmill and loading the dishwasher. So far, I've yet to be mistaken for a member of the cast of either show, but my day could come.
Amongst the cast of Maine hawks, juvenile Red-shouldered hawks are most likely to be confused with juvenile Broad-winged hawks. They can be distinguished by their longer tail and crescent-like wing markings. If you look at the above flight shot and squint, the crescents on the wings will stand out. You also can see how long the wings are. Red-shouldered hawks flap their wings a little differently, too. They are members of the genus Buteo, a group of medium sized raptors with broad wings and robust bodies. Because they kill mammals on the ground rather than chase other birds around the skies like Accipiter hawks, they are built for power not speed. So, their wings are broader and longer than their Accipiter cousins (see Cooper's & Sharp-shinned). Birds constructed for speed have longer tails for quicker in- flight maneuvering, too. Red-shouldered hawks are also easily confused with Red-tailed hawks, another big, Buteo which we more often see here in the winter.
The Red-shouldered is one of our most vocal hawks bested only by ospreys. Crows often mob them, but legend has it that they also gang up with crows against Great Horned owls that prey on nestlings. When you hear crows screeching in the trees, look for hawks. A sign of an active Red-shouldered hawk nest is poop on the ground. By the time their nestlings are five days old, they can shoot poop over the edge of the nest. These hawks don't need inspirational television programming for good housekeeping, but it might nudge them toward timely migration.
Thanks for some of the information to:
Sibley, D.A., The Sibley Guide To The Birds (2000), New York: Knopf (2001), pp104-105, 108-109, 112-118, 122
http://ebird.com/ This is the Cornell Ornithology labs data base site. It is a great place to put your bird sighting information. I encourage anyone who is interested in birds to enter their sightings here. The information is used by scientists to track population trends of birds and for conservation planning, among other things. There is tons of great information on this site. You can find when a bird was first, last or if ever reported anywhere in the United States. It's a very user friendly web site.