Red-shouldered Hawk Perched on a Grape Vine

Late this morning, under a restless, clearing sky, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew low through the trees near the edge of our woods and perched on a grape vine that hung between two trees. The new green leaves all around drooped and dripped with with rainwater from heavy showers overnight, but the sun came out enough to trace the floor of the woods with light and shadows.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called spee! and a Summer Tanager pik-a-tuk. A Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Black and White Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher sang. Chimney Swifts twittered overhead.

The Red-shouldered Hawk sat facing in my direction, in perfect view, for several minutes, looking down toward the ground for most of the time, turning its head far from one side to another, and it was so close I could see the details in its plumage like fine lines and shades in a painting. Its head was dark with fine streaks, and a dark hood down the nape of the neck. Under its chin was pale. The curved beak was dark on the tip. I could even see the reddish shoulders glowing against the brown of its wings, and three white bars across the wings, as well as other white markings. Its breast looked tawny-red, flecked with rufous, while its belly was barred in a darker shade of robin-red. Usually the breast of a Red-shouldered Hawk looks deeper red than the belly, so maybe this was a trick of the light, or maybe because some of the plumage was wet. It appeared relatively small, so it may have been a male.

After a while, a Cardinal approached close to the Hawk, peeping loudly. Another small bird, maybe a Titmouse, also came close, but the Hawk seemed to pay no attention to them, keeping its attention focused on the ground. Then it began to look up – and abruptly called a loud KEE-yer! KEE-yer! and spread its wings, flying through the trees toward the east and then into the open and up, continuing to call, and being answered by another Red Shouldered Hawk. I could hear their calls for several minutes after it had flown out of sight.

Red-shouldered Hawks are woodland birds, and we’re lucky to have them here in the woods around our neighborhood. We see them often – many times flying low among and through the trees with amazing skill – but not so often at such close range and in such a perfect leafy setting as this, where the many complex nuances in its markings showed up unusually well.

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