Birds – Red Shouldered Hawk

(Buteo lineatus)


Length—Male 18 to 20 inches; female 20 to 22 inches.

Male and Female—Rich dark reddish brown above, the feathers more or less edged with rufous, buff and whitish; lesser wing coverts rusty red, forming a conspicuous patch on shoulders; four outer feathers of wings notched and all barred with black and white; tail dark with white bars; under parts rusty or buff, the throat streaked with blackish, elsewhere irregularly barred with white; feet and nostrils yellow. Immature birds plain dark brown above, the wing patch sometimes indicated, sometimes not; head, neck, and under parts pale buff, fully streaked with dark brown; wing and tail quills crossed with many light and dark bars.

Range—Eastern North America from Manitoba and Nova Scotia to the Gulf states and Mexico, westward to Texas and the great plains; nests throughout its range.

Season—Permanent resident.

To shoot this commonest of the hawks has long been regarded as a virtue among farmers in the unfounded belief that it is an enemy to their prosperity; but the Department of Agri-

culture has prepared a special bulletin on the hawks and owls for their enlightenment, and the two so-called ” hen hawks” have proved to be among the most valuable allies the farmer has. Of two hundred and twenty stomachs of the red-shouldered hawk examined by Mr. Fisher, only three contained remains of poultry; one hundred and two contained mice; ninety-two insects; forty, moles and other small mammals; thirty-nine, batrachians; twenty, reptiles; sixteen, spiders; twelve, birds; seven, craw-fish; three, fish; two, offal; one, earthworms: and fourteen were empty. Let the guns be turned toward those bloodthirsty, audacious miscreants, Cooper’s, the sharp-shinned hawk, and the goshawk, and away from the red-tailed and red-shouldered species, beneficent, majestic kings of the air! Longfellow, in “The Birds of Killingworth,” among the “Tales of a Wayside Inn,” has written a defence of the hawks, among other birds, that the Audubon societies might well use as a tract.

Sailing in wide circles overhead like the larger red-tail, the red-shouldered buzzard is a picture of repose in motion. Rising, falling in long undulations, floating, balancing in a strong current of the cool stratum of air far above the earth all this hardy tribe delight in, now stationary on motionless wings, and again with a superb swoop a very meteor for speed, the flight of this hawk has been familiar to us all from childhood, yet who ever tires watching its fascinating grace? Serenely the hawk pursues its way, ignoring the impudence of the small kingbird in pursuit and the indignities of the crow that may not reach the dizzy heights toward which it soars in wide spirals. While the mates are nesting from April to August, the helpless fledglings give them little opportunity to enjoy these leisurely sails; but toward the end of August, particularly in September, and throughout the winter, they are birds of freedom indeed. Kee you, kee you, they scream as they sail—a cry the blue jay out of pure mischief has learned to imitate to perfection. It is the red-tail, however, that screams most a-wing.

” Toward man the ` hen hawks’ are naturally shy,” says Minot; “but it is generally easy to approach them when gorged, or at other times to do so in a vehicle or on horseback. On a horse I have actually passed under one. They frequently leave their food when approached, instead of carrying it off in the manner of many hawks. Like other barbarians, they refuse to show signs of suffering, or to allow their spirit to become subdued. When shot and mortally wounded they usually sail on unconcernedly while their strength lasts, until obliged to fall. If not dead, they turn upon their rump, and fight till the last, like others of their tribe. Their eyes gleam savagely and they defend themselves with both bill and talons. With these latter, if incautiously treated, they can inflict severe wounds, and they sometimes seize a stick with such tenacity that I have seen one carried half a mile through his persistent grasp.”

The red-shouldered hawk spends most of its life perching, usually on some distended dead limb where, like an eagle in its dignity, it watches for mice and moles to creep through the meadow, chipmunks to run along stone walls, gophers and young rabbits to play about the edges of woods, frogs, snakes, etc., to move along the sluggish streams of low woodlands, its favorite hunting grounds. It is not shy, and when it perches may be quite closely approached and watched as it descends like a thunderbolt to strike its humble quarry, that is usually borne aloft to be devoured piecemeal. One never sees this hawk .chasing a bird through the air as the tyrannical Cooper’s hawk does. In nesting habits there is no noteworthy difference from the red-tails’, beyond that the eggs are a trifle smaller.

Swainson’s Hawk or Buzzard (Buteo Swainsoni), an infrequent visitor east of the Mississippi, is nevertheless the commonest of all its tribe in some sections of the West. In the many phases of plumage shown between infancy and old age, this large, amiable fellow may always be distinguished by the three notched outer primaries of his wings taken in connection with his size, about twenty inches, and his dusky brown upper parts more or less margined with rufous or buff; the unbarred primaries of wings; his grayish tail indistinctly barred with blackish, which shows more plainly from the under side; the large rusty patch on his breast, and by the white or buff under parts that are streaked, spotted, or barred with blackish, rusty, or buff. Preeminently a prairie bird, it prefers the watercourses of lowlands that are scantily timbered and the cultivated fields for hunting grounds, since mice, gophers, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, and such fare —rarely if ever a bird—are what it is ever seeking. Therefore from the most selfish of economic standpoints it should enjoy the fullest protection. Gentle, unsuspicious, living on excellent terms with its humblest feathered neighbor, mated for life to its larger spouse, and an unselfish, devoted parent, Swainson’s hawk has more than the average number of virtues to commend it to mankind.