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Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) Photographed near the Flamingo Visitors Center in the Everglades National Park, Florida, USA.Red-Shouldered Hawk

(Buteo lineatus)

I took this photo in the extreme southern tip of Florida near the Flamingo Visitor Center in the Everglades National Park. I had no idea what species it was until I learned of the extreme plumage variations in the Red-shouldered Hawk. The southern Florida variety is pale with a grayish head, unlike the pair who nest beside my house in North Carolina, which are a rich orange color.

My local pair comes back every year to nest in the same patch of forest overlooking a small swamp. Their screams of “Keeeer, keeeer, keeer” are a familiar sound as they dash beneath the forest canopy or circle high above in the blue sky.

But things are not always peaceful. Like members of rival gangs, the American Crows are constantly mobbing them. And with good reason. The Red-shouldered Hawk is known to eat nestlings of other birds, even of the Great Horned Owl, and will occasionally steal food from other birds like the crow.

But most often it can be found perched on a high branch in the forest near the edge of a pond, waiting for small creatures to appear and swoop down upon them. Favorite foods include small mammals (like chipmunks and voles), amphibians (frogs and toads), reptiles (lizards and snakes), and occasionally birds (sparrows, doves, starlings), and even crayfish!

The same pair of birds will mate together year after year, often using the same nest each time. They can live up to 22 years! A couple weeks ago I heard their calls again, a sign that spring is coming and the pair has returned to raise a new generation of Red-shouldered Hawks.

One more funny fact: nestlings are able to shoot their poop over the side of the nest at just less than a week old! Lots of white poop under a tree is a good sign of an active nest!