Article and photos by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
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 treetops, 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. The female performs what is called ‘asynchronous hatching’, a behavior found in other raptors as well. 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, although 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 usually 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 some of us and 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 www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!
Up 30’ high this nest is about 2’ wide and made of small branches, twigs, leaves and lots of soft Spanish moss. These hawks often repair and reuse the same nests year after year.
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.
Both parents bring in a vareiety of small prey, and other bird’s chicks are on the menu. Down the hatch, feathers and all!
The russet shoulder patch gives this small hawk its name. And even without the adult coloring the chick shows a strong family resemblence!
After a hearty meal it’s a good time to stretch young wings.