Red-shouldered Hawk – A Close-up View in Shady Woods

By late morning when I went out to walk, the day was warm, sunny, and windy but still very pleasant, with lots of big white cumulous clouds. Birds were few and rather quiet. Chimney Swifts twittered overhead. A tiny, deep-blue Indigo Bunting sang from the top of a small ragged tree in the old field, maybe a wild plum tree – but no Blue Grosbeak today, and no White-eyed Vireo singing. A Great Crested Flycatcher called Breet in the woods, one Summer Tanager sang from a small patch of trees and shrubs – the only tanager heard all morning, and no vireos at all. One Louisiana Waterthrush sang from near a creek, and a Brown Thrasher from the top of the big, dead, red-brown Leyland cypress at the end of our road. Northern Mockingbirds and two or three American Robins sang. Three Eastern Phoebes, an abundance of Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, House Finches, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and Chipping Sparrows were active – and lots of baby birds begged in wheezy voices. Mourning Doves cooed. Blue Jays and American Crows here and there.

Near the top of a shady hill, with woods on both sides of the road, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew low across the road several yards ahead of me, wings wide outspread and tail flared, and swept up into a low branch where it sat facing toward me – deeply shaded by green leaves but in full, clear view. If I had not seen it fly, I would have walked right past and never seen it, it blends so well with the shadows of the trees.

As it flew across the road, so close, the brown, black and white patterns of its back and wings, the black and white bands of the tail, and even the warm red across the shoulders all looked bright, leaving a vivid, colorful image. Sitting silent on the branch, its head was turned in profile, showing the large, hooked bill, dark on the tip. Its breast was broad and barred with ruddy-red, and its white-checkered, dark-brown wings also showed. Only the tail was obscured by some leaves.

I watched for several quiet minutes as it perched, seeming to move only its head, looking one way and another, and it didn’t even fly when I finally walked on, angling away toward the other side of the road, hoping not to disturb it. But then when I came even with where it perched, I couldn’t resist stopping for one more look with binoculars – and as soon as I stopped it flew, dropping low on outstretched wings again and gliding further back into the woods and out of sight. Ah well – I should not have stopped.

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