Red-shouldered hawk
Buteo lineatus
ITIS Species Code:   175359         NatureServ Element Code:   ABNKC19030
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  17 Southern Piedmont:  15 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  15
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

15.8 %
35.2 %
12.4 %
4.3 %
5.8 %
4.7 %
14.5 %
2.0 %
1.1 %
3.3 %
3.3 %
0.3 %
< 0.1 %

44.9 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

1.8 %
4.1 %
1.5 %
0.5 %
0.7 %
0.6 %
1.7 %
0.2 %
0.1 %
< 0.1 %
0.4 %
< 0.1 %
88.2 %

5.3 %
Red-shouldered hawks are usually found in the coastal plain to piedmont, but rarely in the mountains (Potter et al 1980).

They normally prefers mature bottomland forests or riparian habitat (Lee 2000), with flooded swamps or some form of open water nearby (Hamel 1992 Palmer 1988). Johnsgards (1990) in fact lists the Red-shouldered hawks favored habitat as 'the borders of lakes and streams or other wetlands.' Breeding territories have also been recorded in suburban wooded areas (Boynton 1993).

The nest is typically located in the crotch of a large tree (Lee 2000) of a mature forest with a well-defined understory (Palmer 1988) Normally the nest tree is among the forest interior (Lee 2000). No particular tree species is preferred, however in NC both oaks and white pines are often used (Boynton 1993). While its construction is primarily of various stick and twigs, the nest is often lined with bark, moss, lichens, conifer branchlets, and leaves of herbaceous plants (Bent 1937). Red-shouldered hawks forage under the canopy in the forest interior, and also near water in more open areas proximal to the breeding territory (Palmer 1988).


Breeding habitat varies from bottomland hardwoods and riparian areas (Stewart 1949, Henny et al. 1973, Bednarz and Dinsmore 1981, Kimmel and Fredrickson 1981, Woodrey 1986, Preston et al. 1989) to upland deciduous or mixed deciduous-conifer forest (Titus and Mosher 1981, Armstrong and Euler 1983, Morris and Lemon 1983, Crocoll and Parker 1989). Nesting areas are almost always found near some form of water, such as a swamp, marsh, river, or pond (Preston et al. 1989, Bosakowski et al. 1992), and the habitat is usually well forested (Portnoy and Dodge 1979, Kimmel and Fredrickson 1981, Titus and Mosher 1981, Morris and Lemon 1983, Ebbers 1989). Further, nesting habitat typically is mature forest with a well-developed high canopy and variable amounts of understory vegetation (Postupalsky 1980, Titus and Mosher 1981, Armstrong and Euler 1983, Morris and Lemon 1983, Titus 1984, Preston et al. 1989).

According to Hamel (1992), nests in swamps, bottomlands, and moist forests, never in upland forests in the southeast. Foraging habitat: marshes, wooded lakes or ponds, swamps.

Generally requires large forested areas; in most areas seems to need tracts of at least 100-250 ha (but may use smaller forest patch if it is part of a larger forested ecosystem) (Bushman and Therres 1988). Generally replaced by the red-tailed hawk in fragmented open forests. Sometimes occurs in coniferous stands in the West. In California, has been expanding range of occupied habitats to include various woodlands, including stands of eucalyptus trees amid urban sprawl (Ehrlich et al. 1992).

The nest is usually built in the main crotch of a large, living tree in mature forest, although in Florida, palmettos may be used. In eastern North America, nests generally are far from forest edges. At least 43 species of mainly deciduous trees have been chosen, so that the size and shape seem more important than the actual species (Bednarz 1979, Apfelbaum and Seelbach 1983, Titus and Mosher 1987, Palmer 1988, Ebbers 1989). The bulky twig structure, rather flat on top, is typically placed approximately halfway up the tree in the lower portion of the canopy (Morris et al. 1982, Titus and Mosher 1987). The typical height is between 11-15 m but can range from 1.5-33.5 m (Peck and James 1983, Ebbers 1989). The nest is lined with stems, leaves, lichen, and bark. Active nests are decorated with greenery and other materials. Hemlock and other conifer sprigs are often mentioned as nest greenery, as are deciduous sprigs once they have leafed out, and Bent (1937) mentioned such plants as flowering violets and nightshade. Other materials have included cornstalks, ears, and husks, dried tent caterpillar webs, tissue paper, twine, and nests of eastern wood-pewee, red-eyed vireo, and northern oriole (Palmer 1988).

Often uses nests of previous years (Terres 1980). In eastern North America, may use nest used previously by barred owl (and vice versa) (Palmer 1988). See Dijak et al. (1990) for information on nest-site characteristics affecting success and reuse of nests in Missouri.

Nesting territories can be used for many years by a succession of pairs, even in the face of logging and (formerly) egg collecting. Bent (1937) reported an unbroken record of 26 years for a territory that was occupied for at least 42 years, until the woods were nearly ruined by cutting. His longest record was 47 years, but he knew of a tract that was occupied by red-shouldered hawks for over at least a half-century, from 1872 until 1923.

Winter habitat is less restricted than that used for breeding; favors lowland areas near water, either standing or running, including river valleys, swamps, marshes, and perhaps canyon bottoms (Palmer 1988), and level, open country with scattered large trees (Bent 1937). In Florida, Bohall and Collopy (1984) found red-shouldered hawks most often in open areas such as pastures and fallow fields.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
380 Coastal Plain Fresh Water Emergent Emergent vegetation in fresh water seepage bogs, ponds and riverbeds of the coastal plain. Includes alliances dominated by sedges, eelgrass, as well as cane found in unforested cane-brakes. Small Depression Pond, Sandhill Seep, Floodplain Pool, Unforested Floodplain Canebrake, Riverscour Prairies, Vernal Pools
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
50 Coastal Plain Mixed Bottomland Forests Includes forests dominated by a variety of hardwood species, including sweetgum, cottonwood, red maple. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwood (in part), Coastal Plain Levee Forest
49 Coastal Plain Oak Bottomland Forest Bottomland forests dominated by deciduous oak alliances. Oaks represented can include swamp chestnut, cherrybark, willow, and/or overcup oak. Inclusions of loblolly pine temporarily flooded forests occur in patches. Hydrology is temporarily to seasonally flooded. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods (in part) blackwater subtype, brownwater subtype
158 Coastal Plain Nonriverine Wet Flat Forests Loblolly pine - Atlantic white-cedar - red maple - swamp tupelo saturated forests as well as forests dominated by loblolly, sweetgum, and red maple in non-riverine flats. Non-riverine Wet Hardwood Forest
41 Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest Dense stands of Atlantic white cedar with saturated hydrology. Can include swamp tupelo, red maple, and pond pines with a moderate shrub and herb layer. Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest
15 Seepage and Streamhead Swamps Includes extensive peat flats in the coastal plain, dominated by swamp tupelo, maples, and Atlantic white cedar alliances. In the sandhills includes streamhead pond pine and bay forests alliances. Saturated hydrology. Bay Forest, Small Depression Pocosin, Streamhead Atlantic White Cedar Forest, Streamhead Pocosins
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
385 Oak Bottomland Forest and Swamp Forest The swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, shumard oak and sweetgum alliance is one representative. Other alliances are dominated by water, willow, and overcup oaks. Swamp forests can be dominated by sweetgum, red maple, and black gum being dominant. Loblolly can occur in combination with sweetgum and red maple, or with tulip poplar. Includes saturated and semi- to permanently flooded forests in the mountains. Piedmont/Mountain Bottomland Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest
63 Coastal Plain Mesic Hardwood Forests Beech dominated forests with white oak and northern red oak as possible co-dominants. Dry-mesic to mesic forests on slopes and small stream bottoms in the coastal plain. Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, Basic Mesic Forests
138 Coastal Plain Dry to Dry-Mesic Oak Forests Oak dominated forests of the coastal plain. Includes white oak forests with water oak or northern red oak and hickories as co-dominants. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
87 Pocosin Woodlands and Shrublands Includes pond pine woodland, low pocosin and high pocosin shrub dominated areas. Canebrakes and bay forests may be present. Pond Pine Woodlands, Peatland Canebrake, Small Depression Pocosin
67 Wet Longleaf or Slash Pine Savanna Wet flatwoods and pine savannas, typically dominated by longleaf pines, but slash or pond pines may be the dominant pines. Wet Pine Flatwoods
97 Mesic Longleaf Pine Longleaf pine woodlands without a major scrub oak component. Slash or loblolly pines may be present as well. Mesic Pine Flatwoods
238 Piedmont/Mountain Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Seasonally to permanently flooded areas with aquatic vegetation. Waterlily, pondweed, hydrilla smartweed are a few of the species that can occur. Piedmont/Mountain Semipermanent Impoundment (in part)
239 Piedmont/Mountain Emergent Vegetation Emergent vegetation of all wetland hydrologies. Sites would commonly support species such as tussock sedge, rushs, and cattail alliances. Rocky Bar and Shore (in part)
267 Riverbank Shrublands Riverside shrubs with temporarily flooded hydrologies. Found in the both the Mountains and Piedmont. Containing dominants such as smooth alder and a Carolina or black willows. Sand and Mud Bar
269 Floodplain Wet Shrublands Saturated shrublands of the Piedmont, includes buttonbush, swamp-loosestrife, decodon and alders. Piedmont/mountain Semipermanent Impoundment
230 Piedmont Mesic Forest American Beech - Red Oak - White Oak Forests. Mesic Mixed Hardwood
384 Piedmont/Mountain Mixed Bottomland Hardwood Forests Includes temporarily to seasonally forests dominated by hardwood species. Hardwoods include sweetgum, red maple, sycamore which co-occur in a mosaic of bottomland and levee positions. Includes alluvial hardwood forests in the mountains. Hemlock and white pine may occur as inclusions, but are generally mapped separately. Piedmont/Mountain Alluvial Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Levee Forest
383 Piedmont Mixed Successional Forest Generally loblolly mixed with successional hardwoods. Sweetgum, tulip poplar and red maple are common co-dominants in these successional forests. No equivalent
228 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Oak and Hardwood Forests Primarily oak dominated forests, white oak is often dominant, with co-dominants including . Also represented by sweetgum and tulip poplar dominated forests. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
222 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Pine Forests Loblolly dominated forests resulting from succession following clearing. This type occurs on all moisture regimes following disturbance with the exception of the extremely xeric sites. No equivalent
382 Dry Mesic Oak Pine Forests Mixed forests of the coastal plain and piedmont. Includes loblolly pine with white, southern red and/or post oak and loblolly with water oak. On basic sites of the piedmont, eastern red cedar may co-occur with post, black, and blackjack oaks. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Xeric Hard Pan Forest, Chestnut Oak Forest, Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
21 Coniferous Cultivated Plantation (natural / planted) Managed pine plantations, densely planted. Most planted stands are loblolly, but slash and longleaf occur as well. No equivalent
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
517 Hemlock Floodplain Forest Alluvial forest with hemlock and/or white pine in mountains and western piedmont. Hydrology is generally temporarily to seasonally flooded. Canada Hemlock Forest
533 Appalachian Swamp Forest Evergreen and deciduous forests with saturated hydrologies. This class may contain a variety of trees species, including hemlock - red maple, pitch pine, and white pine forests. Swamp Forest-Bog Complex, Southern Appalachian Bog, Southern Appalachian Fen
534 Appalachian Wet Shrubland/ Herbaceous Saturated shrubs and herbaceous vegetation. Often mapped as an inclusion in Appalachian Swamp Forest. Southern Appalachian Bog, Southern Appalachian Fen
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 500 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude all land greater than 500 meters from wet vegetation.
Exclude brackish and salt water habitats.
Exclude areas of intensive human activity including moderately to highly developed landscapes.
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Bednarz, J. C., and J. J. Dinsmore. 1981. Status, habitat use and management of red-shouldered hawks in Iowa. J. Wildlife Manage. 45:236-241.

Kimmel, V. L., and L. H. Fredrickson. 1981. Nesting ecology of the red-shouldered hawk in southeastern missouri. Trans. Missouri Acad. Sci. 15:21-27.

Titus, K., and J. A. Mosher. 1981. Nest site habitat selection by woodland hawks in the central Appalachians. Auk 98:270-281.

Morris, M. M. J., et al. 1982. Characterisitics of red-shouldered hawk, BUTEO LINEATUS, nest sites in southwestern Quebec. Can. Field-Nat. 96:139-142.

Apfelbaum, S. I., and P. Seelbach. 1983. Nest tree, habitat selection and productivity of seven North American raptor species based on the Cornell University Nest Record Card Program. Raptor Research 17:97-113.

Armstrong, E., and D. Euler. 1983. Habitat usage of two woodland BUTEO species in central Ontario. Can. Field-Nat. 97:200-207.

Titus, K., and M. R. Fuller. 1990. Recent trends in counts of migrant hawks from northeastern North America. Journal of Wildlife Management 54:463-470.

Peterson, J. M. C., and S. T. Crocoll. 1992. Red-shouldered hawk, BUTEO LINEATUS. Pages 333-351 in K. J. Schneider and D. M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Mas

Kirk, D.A., D. Hussell, and E. Dunn. 1994/95. Raptor population status and trends in Canada. Bird Trends (Canadian Wildlife Service) 4:2-9.

Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Part 1. Bull. U.S. Natl. Mus. 137. 409 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Evers, D. C. 1992. A guide to Michigan's endangered wildlife. Univ. Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. viii + 103 pp.

Hamel, P. B. 1992. The land manager's guide to the birds of the south. The Nature Conservancy, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 367 pp + several appendices.

Herkert, J. R., editor. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois:status and distribution. Vol. 2:Animals. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. iv + 142 pp.

Fisher, A.K. 1893. The hawks and owls of the United States in their relation to agriculture. Washington U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Bull. no. 6. 210 pp.

Hands, H.M., R.D. Drobney, and M.R. Ryan. 1989. Status of the red-shouldered hawk in the northcentral United States. Missouri Coop. Fish Wildl. Res. Unit Rep. 21 pp.

Titus, K. 1984. Uniformity in relative habitat selection by BUTEO LINEATUS and B. PLATYPTERUS in two temperate forest regions. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. Maryland.

Postupalsky, S. 1980. The red-shouldered hawk breeding in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Jack Pine Warbler 58:73-76.

Stewart, R. E. 1949. Ecology of a nesting red-shouldered hawk population. Wilson Bull. 61:26-35.

Crocoll, S. T., and J. W. Parker. 1989. The breeding biology of broad-winged and red-shouldered hawks in western New York. J. Raptor Res. 23:125-39.

Bednarz, J. C. 1979. Ecology and status of the PECOS GAMBUSIA, GAMBUSIA NOBILIS (Poeciliidae), in New Mexico. Southwestern Naturalist 24:311-22.

Preston, C. R., C. S. Harger, and H. E. Harger. 1989. Habitat use and nest-site selection by red-shouldered hawks in Arkansas. Southwest. Nat. 34:72-78.

Bednarz, J. C., D. Klem Jr., L. J. Goodrich, and S. E. Senner. 1990. Migration counts of raptors at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, as indicators of population trends, 1934-1986. The Auk 107:96-109.

Dijak, W. D., B. Tannenbaum, and M. A. Parker. 1990. Nest-site characteristics affecting success and reuse of red-shouldered hawk nests. Wilson Bull. 102:480-486.

Morris, M. M. J., and R. E. Lemon. 1983. Characteristics of vegetation and topography near red-shouldered hawk nests in southwestern Quebec. J. Wildlife Manage. 47:138-145.

Johnson, G., and R. E. Chambers. 1990. Response to conspecific, roadside playback recordings:an index of red-shouldered hawk breeding density. Pages 71-76 in Mitchell et al., eds. Ecosystem management:rare species and significant habitats. New York State

Balding, T., and E. Dibble. 1984. Responses of red-tailed, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks to high volume playback recordings. Passenger Pigeon 46:71-75.

Bohall, P. G., and M. W. Collopy. 1984. Seasonal abundance, habitat use and perch sites of four raptor species in northcentral Florida. J. Field Ornithol. 55:181-189.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Bryant, A. A. 1986. Influence of selective logging on red-shouldered hawks, BUTEO LINEATUS, in Waterloo region, Ontario, 1953-1978. Can. Field-Nat. 100:520-525.

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Peck, G. K., and R. D. James. 1983. Breeding birds of Ontario, nidology and distribution, volume 1:nonpasserines. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Woodrey, M. S. 1986. Characteristics of red-shouldered hawk nests in southeast Ohio. Wilson Bull. 98:466-469.

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Fuller, M. R., and J. A. Mosher. 1987. Raptor survey techniques. Pages 37-65 in B. A. Giron Pendleton, et al., eds. Raptor management techniques manual. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C.

Pendleton, B. A. Giron, et al. 1987. Raptor management techniques manual. National Wildlife Federation, Sci. and Tech. Ser. No. 10. 420 pp.

Bushman, E.S., and G.D. Therres. 1988. Habitat management guidelines for forest interior breeding birds of coastal Maryland. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Tech. Publ. 88-1. 50 pp.

Palmer, R. S., editor. 1988. Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 4. [Diurnal raptors, part 1]. Yale University Press, New Haven. vii + 433 pp.

Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds:An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.

Titus, K., and J. A. Mosher. 1987. Selection of nest tree species by red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks in two temperate forest regions. J. Field Ornithol. 58:274-283.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1990. Hawks, eagles, and falcons of North America. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C. xvi + 403 pp.

Henny, C. J., et al. 1973. Territorial behavior, pesticides and the population ecology of red-shoulder hawks in central Maryland, 1943-1971. Ecology 54:545-554.

Bosakowski, T., D. G. Smith, and R. Speiser. 1992. Status, nesting density, and macrohabitat selection of red-shouldered hawks in northern New Jersey. Wilson Bull. 104:434-446.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853