Red-Shouldered Hawks are Welcomed Noisy Neighbors

The Hen-Hawk in the Words of Naturist John Burroughs

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Living in Danbury, Connecticut, just outside the woods, I enjoyed having Red-shouldered Hawks as frequent visitors to my backyard.

There was a hilly open field close by with a lake in the distance surrounded by woods, and watching these hawks circling effortlessly high above is delightful.

Hawks touch a magical realm in the sky that’s strictly their own.

Flap-flap-glide. Flap-flap-glide. Flap-flap-glide.

Red-shouldered Hawk Rest Stop

Red-shouldered Hawks landing in my yard is a frequent sight.

When a hawk decides to land in the yard, the birds freeze in place, and the squirrels make a mad dash for cover. Then, I quietly run outside to see the hawk resting on a branch, observing the wildlife below.

The hawk sits perching and observing its surroundings while I take incredible photos, cherishing every minute with this beautiful bird. And the longer the hawk sits, the closer I get until finally, after 30 minutes, the hawk pushes back deeper into the woods.

red shouldered hawk perching
Red-shouldered Hawks often hunt from perches near water. They eat frogs, toads, crayfish, snakes, lizards, birds, insects, and small mammals like voles and chipmunks.

Leaving My Backyard Friends Behind

When it was time to move, I knew I’d miss my Red-shouldered Hawks and other wildlife I had cared for. But to my amazement, in my new home in New York, backyard critters are bonding with me, and yes, I even have Red-Shouldered Hawks.

I don’t know who moved in first, me or the hawks, but I welcome having these noisy neighbors.
Walking on my road, hiking on a trail, or anywhere close to the woods, I hear these hawks all around me.

You hear a Red-shouldered Hawk before you see them.

Hearing the hawk’s kee-aah, kee-aah, kee-aah calls as they’re flying high above is delightful.

Red-shouldered Hawks are among the noisiest buteos, but I enjoy hearing their calls.

And hearing Blue Jays mimicking their calls, instantly scattering songbirds at my feeders.

Living in southern New York, these hawks are with me all year. I listen to their calls daily and look to the sky for a quick glance at their swift flyby.

But where are they going?

I recently got the answer.

red shouldered hawk hunting
Red-shouldered Hawks hunt from a perch and drop down onto its prey.

I’m a Chicken Hawk

If you have an old bird field guide and look up the Red-shouldered Hawk, you might find no such bird. That’s because they were Hen Hawks back then.

Think of the Looney Tunes’ Foghorn Leghorn cartoons with Henery Hawk telling Foghorn, “I’m a chicken hawk.”

One of my neighbors, who is homesteading, has chickens, and I hear the Red-shouldered Hawks plundering the chicken coops. So unless they give up raising chickens, my Red-shouldered Hawks will be here for a long time.

In tribute to one of my favorite writers, the great American naturist John Burroughs, and champion of preserving open spaces and the natural world, I present his story, ‘Hen-Hawk.’

By reading this, I hope you become one of a long line of Burroughs admirers, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Read on to enjoy ‘Hen-Hawk’ from Burroughs’s book, ‘Bird Stories from Burroughs.’


August is the month of the high-sailing hawks.

The hen-hawk is the most noticeable.

He likes the haze and calm of these long, warm days. He is a bird of leisure, and seems always at his ease.

How beautiful and majestic are his movements!

So self-poised and easy, such an entire absence of haste, such a magnificent amplitude of circles and spirals, such a haughty, imperial grace, and, occasionally, such daring aerial evolutions!

Red-shouldered Hawk’s Soaring Aerial Artistry

With slow, leisurely movement, rarely vibrating his pinions, he mounts and mounts in an ascending spiral till he appears a mere speck against the summer sky.

Then, if the mood seizes him, with wings half closed, like a bent bow, he will cleave the air almost perpendicularly, as if intent on dashing himself to pieces against the earth; but on nearing the ground he suddenly mounts again on broad, expanded wing, as if rebounding upon the air, and sails leisurely away.

It is the sublimest feat of the season.

One holds his breath till he sees him rise again.

Meteoric in Speed and Boldness

If inclined to a more gradual and less precipitous descent, he fixes his eye on some distant point in the earth beneath him, and thither bends his course.

He is still almost meteoric in his speed and boldness.

You see his path down the heavens, straight as a line.

If near, you hear the rush of his wings.

His shadow hurtles across the fields, and in an instant you see him quietly perched upon some low tree or decayed stub in a swamp or meadow, with reminiscences of frogs and mice stirring in his maw.

red shouldered hawk looking at you
Red-shouldered hawk often nest in suburban areas, giving residents an opportunity to watch nesting hawks closely. These hawks are noisy when courting and building their nests.

Red-shouldered Hawks Riding the Wind

When the south wind blows, it is a study to see three or four of these air-kings at the head of the valley far up toward the mountain.

Balancing and oscillating upon the strong current now quite stationary, except for a slight tremulous motion like the poise of a rope-dancer.

Then rising and falling in long undulations, and seeming to resign themselves passively to the wind.

Or, again, sailing high and level far above the mountain’s peak, no bluster and haste, but, as stated, occasionally a terrible earnestness and speed.

Fire at one as he sails overhead, and, unless wounded badly, he will not change his course or gait.

Dignity of the Red-shouldered Hawk

The calmness and dignity of this hawk, when attacked by crows or the kingbird, are well worthy of him.

He seldom deigns to notice his noisy and furious antagonists, but deliberately wheels about in that aerial spiral, and mounts and mounts till his pursuers grow dizzy and return to earth again.

It is quite original, this mode of getting rid of an unworthy opponent, —rising to heights where the braggart is dazed and bewildered and loses his reckoning!

I am not sure but it is worthy of imitation.

John Burroughs is one of the most important nature writers in history and a noted authority about backyard birding.

Learn more about John Burroughs and his works at the John Burroughs Association at

If you’re in the vicinity of John Burroughs’ Slabsides and Nature Sanctuary at Floyd Ackert Road in West Park, NY, stop by for Slabsides Day to visit his famous cabin in the woods.

Get directions to Slabsides here.


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