Young Red-shouldered Hawks are Yardbirds
Ro Wauer, July 13, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003
During the last couple weeks two young red-shouldered hawks have claimed my yard, and also a few of my neighbor's yards, as their own private hunting grounds. They seem to almost ignore my activities in the yard, at least until I get within 100 feet or so. Then, they give a great screech and fly off "muttering" their annoyance that I am disturbing their territory.
I have watched them from inside the house on several occasions, when they were unaware, and it is very obvious that they are youngsters just learning their trade. They are still very awkward, not only when perching on a tree limb but also on the ground. Their balance is not yet stable, and they seem to tip this way and that each time they land. They do adjust, however, usually with wings out to help stabilize themselves. On one occasion, when one landed at the top of a utility pole, it actually missed the top and had to drop off and try a second time.
The adults are still around the neighborhood, as I see them now and again. But a few weeks ago, when they were busy feeding nestlings, they too were yardbirds, catching almost everything that moved. Small mammals, lizards and snakes were the most wanted prey, but when those creatures were not readily available, they took much smaller prey such as various insects, including crickets, katydids and cicadas. More often than not, the male will capture the food and take it to the female; she will then feed it to the nestlings. A growing baby demands food no matter what it might be. And baby hawks grow extremely fast. Within about three weeks they go from tiny white balls of fuzz to adult size, and in another week they are able to leave the nest.
Upon leaving the nest they look different than the adults, lacking the clean-cut patterns and red shoulders that they will develop before winter. Juvenal birds are mottled on their breast and back, but do have a banded tail, although that too is not as sharp as it will be as an adult. And their vocalizations are different, too. Their calls are not as distinct as the adults are, and they do a lot of squealing and cheeping. At times they will sit together on a limb and beg to be fed, or maybe they are simply complaining to one another. After all, mom and dad have deserted us, and our survival is totally up to us. True teenagers!
Adult red-shouldered hawks, probably the large raptor most often called "chicken-hawk" by locals, because of their constant presence in wooded neighborhoods where people live, are really magnificent birds. Although not as large as red-tailed hawks, the common field hawk, red-shouldereds are even more numerous in South Texas. But because of their habitat preference, that of woodlots, riparian areas along rivers and streaks, and wooded neighborhoods, they are less obvious. But in spring, when they are defending a nesting territory and courting, they are most obvious. Then they are extremely vocal, constantly calling "kee yeer" notes as they circle overhead.
An adult red-shouldered hawk is a most attractive bird! They possess a barred chest, usually reddish bars, and red shoulders. In flight they reveal their underwings that are reddish in front and black with fine white streaks behind. They also possess a whitish "window" near each wingtip. Their legs are yellow. And the adult's tail is banded black and white.
The red-shouldered hawk rarely is found away from wooded areas, and its abundance in swampy areas of the Southeast has given it the name "swamp hawk." In our part of Texas, perhaps its name should be "neighborhood hawk."