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Fishin’ Hole Nature: Red-Shouldered Hawks

Fishin’ Hole Nature: Red-Shouldered Hawks

Fishin’ Hole Nature: Red-Shouldered Hawks

Red-shouldered Hawks are small forest raptors, and luckily for us they live here year-round as permanent residents of East Texas!  Aptly named for their russet red shoulder patches, these handsome hawks also have striped and checked feathers in shades of browns, cinnamons and creams. They primarily live in the eastern half of North America, and East Texas is perfect because they prefer tall trees near wetlands and waterways.  They are lightweights at only 1.5 lbs, and stand about 1.5’ tall.  Because they are smaller hawks, these raptors chase pocket-sized prey such as frogs, mice, moles, lizards and tiny birds.  Red shoulders can usually be seen sitting high up in the tree branches, patiently waiting and watching.  Their vision is superb, and when they spot their next meal, they swoop down and catch it in their talons while in flight!

Red shoulders mate from April to July, and often reuse their nests year after year.  They repair and reuse the nests as needed, and usually lay one clutch of 2-4 eggs each year.  Egg hatching for them is ‘asynchronous’, a behavior found in other raptors as well, such as Bald Eagles.  Instead of waiting for all eggs to be laid before incubating them at the same time, the female incubates each egg as soon as it is laid, usually on successive days.  This causes their chicks to hatch on different days, unlike bluebirds or other birds where synchronous hatching allows all the chicks to crack out together often on the same day.  The first hawk hatchling is fed sooner, grows bigger and takes up more nest space than the successive younger chicks, but both parents are vigilant and make certain the smaller chicks get their share.  All chicks are well cared for with both parents bringing them a non-stop food supply.

The youngsters take about 6 weeks to fledge from the nest, but even after learning to fly these kids still need their parents.  For a few months after leaving the nest mom and dad continue to find them food and feed them!  A behavior not too different from us humans with our own grown children!

Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to https://txmn.tamu.edu. Volunteer and get involved!

After a hearty meal it’s a good time to stretch young wings.
The russet shoulder patch gives this small hawk its name. And even without the adult coloring the chicks show a strong family resemblence!
Down the hatch, feathers and all! Both parents bring a variety of small prey, and the menu includes other smaller birds’ and chicks!
Momma is watchful and protective. Predators such as raccoons, snakes and larger raptors will take the chicks. And sadly, storms often knock them out of their nests.

Up 30’ high this nest is about 2’ wide and made of small branches, twigs, leaves and lots of soft downy feathers and local Spanish moss. These hawks often repair and reuse the same nests year after year.

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