A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)

Red-shouldered Hawk is fairly common in Sonoma County and present in most parts of the county, although rarely seen right at the coast or in the most densely forested zones. Favors open forest and edge environments with tall trees, but may be seen active in areas well away from woods as well. Tends to stay near water. Not uncommonly seen in the suburbs where there are still good stands of trees. Generally solitary. Hunts from high perches. Often seen on power lines. Feeds on small mammals, snakes, amphibians, and even large insects. Nests in much of the central part of Sonoma County.

Often identified by its shrill repeated cries before it's sighted. Perched birds show a pale rufous breast barred with white and rufous "shoulders;" heavily barred black and white on the back and folded wings; yellow legs and feet; yellow cere (the bump just above the bill). Seen in flight from below, the most conspicuous features are the broad, black and white-barred tail, and the relatively broad wings. The body and wing linings are washed with orange, but that can be hard to see if strongly back-lit. Light from above will create what look like two pale crescents, one toward the tip of each wing, at the base of each set of primaries--often referred to as "windows." These are visible in the photo below. The windows in the wings combined with the pale orange breast and the black and white (almost checkered) back are unique to this bird.

For current raptor migration information, visit the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory website

English synonyms: Chicken Hawk, Elegant Hawk, Hen Hawk, Red-bellied Hawk, Red-shouldered Buzzard, Red-shouldered Hawk, Winter Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk in other languages--German: Rotschulterbussard; Spanish: Aguililla Pechirroja, Aguililla Pecho Rojo, Busardo Hombrorrojo, Gavilán de Hombros Rojos, Gavilán de Homros Rojos; French: Buse à épaulettes, Buse à épaulettes rousses; Russian: Канюк красноплечий, Красноплечий канюк; Chinese: 赤肩鵟; Japanese: カタアカノスリ(kataakanosuri)

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 40

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 194

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 50

Clark and Wheeler, Peterson Field Guide to Hawks of North America, 2nd ed., 2001, p. 182-188, pl. 16, 17

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 130

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 138

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 161-162

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 230

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 110

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 128

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 112

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 10, 189, 191, 195

Liguori, Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in the Field, 2005, p. 41-45, 48, 78-84

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 74-75, 76

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 22

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 102

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 106

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 176

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 104

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 164-165

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 115

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Red-shouldered Hawk




© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Red-shouldered Hawk, Spring Lake Park, Santa Rosa, May 26, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawk in flight.

Note striped tail and the pale, crescent “windows” toward the tip of each wing

(squinting makes them obvious)

Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated August 3, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County