A Red-shouldered Hawk Encounter

A Red-shouldered Hawk sat almost directly above me, on a branch of a bare-limbed tree, looking vividly colored and larger than life against a pale blue sky. So close and so impressive. Rippling bars of red-orange covered its breast, and its head looked silky brown. What I could see of its back and wings was very dark brown and flecked with white, with reddish-brown glowing on the shoulders in a way that’s often hard to see. It turned its head one way, and another, then called a loud kee-yer! and spread its wings and flew, fanning a black-and-white banded tail. 

When it disappeared, the sky seemed suddenly quiet. For the past several minutes, I’d been watching a noisy and dramatic encounter among three Red-shouldered Hawks in some trees behind a house in our neighborhood. This was the last part of that experience. I was walking up a long hill when I first heard the calls of one Red-shouldered Hawk – a repeated kee-yer– and when I came to the top of the hill, I found it sitting in a tree with its back to the road, not close, but clearly visible from the road where I stood. Then a second Red-shouldered Hawk began to call from somewhere out of sight, toward the north, and the two called back and forth. 

Three Blue Jays flew into the tree where the hawk was sitting, and began to harass it, a couple of times diving quite close, but it seemed unperturbed and fully focused on responding to the calls in the distance. 

After several minutes, a second Red-shouldered Hawk flew out of the woods in the north, and directly to the tree where the first hawk sat. The first hawk turned around to face it. Then a third Red-shouldered Hawk flew from the same area of woods, following the second, and also flew to the same tree, so that all three sat on branches that didn’t look far apart. All this time, the three hawks were calling in a very agitated way. Abruptly, the second hawk flew at the first one aggressively – but they didn’t seem to make contact, and the first one didn’t move right away.  

It looked like the pair of hawks were not happy with the presence of the single hawk and were trying to chase it away from territory they considered their own. It did not leave immediately, but after a few more minutes of harassment by the pair, it moved to a different branch in the same tree, further away from the other two – and then it flew, but not far, directly over me and into a pecan tree near the edge of the road, where I had such a close and vivid view. 

After that hawk had flown and disappeared, I looked back for the other two, and they both were gone, too. 

Because I’ve seen a Red-shouldered Hawk so seldom here this winter season, I was especially happy to see these three. They seem to have become less common, maybe because the woods both in and around our neighborhood have become more fragmented, and more and more areas have been cleared – both of trees and of thickets and undergrowth. Some particular spots that used to be favorite haunts of the Red-shouldered Hawks have been changed quite a bit. 

Red-shouldered Hawks are forest birds that love the deep woods, and we’ve been very lucky to have them living around us here. I’m hopeful that maybe we still have enough large trees and wooded areas close enough so that we’ll continue to see these magnificent birds.

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