Images 2 and 3 courtesy Cindy Lancaster, Brewton, AL
Red-shouldered hawks are large, broad-winged hawks with a relatively long tail and heavy body. The female hawk is larger than the male. Adults have a wingspan of about three feet. To identify look for a bird with a brown head, a dark brown back and reddish underparts with dark brown streaks. Juveniles appear similar to adults, but have creamy underparts with dark brown spots and streaks. Both adults and juveniles have reddish upper wings, which give the impression of red shoulders, thus the common name. The tail of the immature and mature red-shouldered hawk is dark brown with white bands.
Five subspecies of Buteo lineatus are recognized. These subspecies are separated based on geography and physical characteristics. The head and breast markings of the Florida subspecies, Buteo lineatus extimus and Buteo lineatus alleni, are slightly paler than other Red-shouldered hawks.
Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus texanus Spp
Photo courtesy Pete Williams, Gulf Breeze, Florida
Plumage variations within the hawk species are great; some western birds, for example, are extremely dark; others are very pale. Red-shoulder hawks hunt from the air and from exposed perches, such as the tops of dead trees. The bulk of their diet is small mammals.