- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A breeding resident, migrant, and a winter vagrant in southern Minnesota. The Red-shouldered Hawk was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Two widely distributed but disjunct breeding populations. One is in the eastern United States as far north as Minnesota and northeast to Maine, and to Quebec, Canada. The second is in California and north to Oregon. Highest breeding densities are in Florida (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight. This species is officially listed as a Special Concern Species and a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Eastern populations are short-distance migrants in the eastern United States as far south as Mexico, while Pacific coast populations are permanent residents.
Hunts from an elevated perch for small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, small birds, and insects.
A stick nest in the crotch of a large deciduous tree or sometimes a coniferous tree.
Historically, the Red-shouldered Hawk was apparently a rare bird species in Minnesota. Roberts (1932) apologized that “during fifty-odd years of bird work in Minnesota the writer has never seen the Red-shouldered Hawk alive, though it has been constantly looked for.” Roberts stated the species was an “uncommon resident” and that it “undoubtedly breeds in the south-eastern part of the state.”
Roberts devoted considerable text to purported observations of this species in the late 1800s and early 1900s but dismisses them as errors or mistakes in identification. For example, Currier stated he saw one on June 8, 1902, and several between May 22 and June 8, 1903, near Walker in Cass County (Currier 1904, 34). Roberts also reported an observation by Surber near the Iowa border on September 22, 1920. Roberts’s first observation was of a wing and tail brought to him in September 1922 by Frank Blair, a former superintendent of the State Game Farm near Mound in Hennepin County. The bird had apparently been shot at the farm. Later, he also accepted an observation by young “Mr. Walter Breckenridge who reported seeing one just above Marine on the St. Croix River, Washington County, on July 3, 1927.” He was willing to accept this observation because Breckenridge was from Iowa and familiar with the species. Subsequently, in later years, additional observations were made in the same area, which suggested a nesting pair. Breckenridge would later go on to be a well-respected professor and director of the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota.
In Roberts’s revised treatise on the birds of Minnesota (1936), he reported the first confirmed nest with 3 eggs that he found in Wayzata, Hennepin County, on April 22, 1934. The nest was one used the previous year by a Cooper’s Hawk. He also reported a nest with 3 eggs found by Nestor Heimenz in 1935 from St. Cloud in Stearns County. He concluded that the Red-shouldered Hawk should be regarded as “not an uncommon bird in the southeastern part of the state, and occasional farther north and west. All the records indicated that this species is undoubtedly extending its range northward and westward.”
By 1975, Green and Janssen described the breeding distribution of the Red-shouldered Hawk as including southeastern Minnesota and extending to as far north as Deerwood and Brainerd in Crow Wing County. Observations during the breeding season extended north to Leech Lake in Cass County, northwest to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, and south to Swan Lake in Nicollet County. Green and Janssen reported confirmed nesting in 9 counties, ranging from Olmsted to Crow Wing, and inferred nesting from 5 counties, all in southeastern Minnesota.
A few years later, Johnson (1982) documented 39 nests of the Red-shouldered Hawk from 1970 to 1981, including northwest to Otter Tail and Hubbard Counties. He also stated that observations had been made west to Lac qui Parle County, northwest to Beltrami County, and northeast to Aitkin and Pine Counties. In contrast to the range extensions that had been reported beginning in the 1930s, Johnson (1982) felt “the species is having problems in Minnesota.” Janssen (1987), however, suggested the Red-shouldered Hawk was “expanding northwestward in the state,” noting breeding records as far northwest as Mahnomen County and northeast to Aitkin and Pine Counties. He included confirmed nesting from 11 counties since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) expanded the list to 18 counties with confirmed nesting records since 1970 but generally within the same breeding distribution described by Johnson (1982) and Janssen (1987).
In 2004, Stucker et al. provided a review on the status of the Red-shouldered Hawk in Minnesota. They used reports from the Minnesota County Biological Survey (MBS), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Rare Features database, and other observations and reported a total 460 Red-shouldered Hawk locations statewide among 39 counties, primarily in southeastern, east-central, and north-central Minnesota. They also included 3 locations in northeastern Minnesota, 2 in southeastern St. Louis County and 1 in eastern Cook County. They stated that these records were well beyond the previously known breeding range and their significance is unclear but acknowledged that the species may nest at low densities at these locations and perhaps at other locations in northeastern Minnesota.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) recorded 334 breeding season locations of the Red-shouldered Hawk (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2017a). Their intensive surveys, which began in the late 1980s, revealed a substantial number of locations in west-central Minnesota, especially in the Hardwood Hills Subsection, the northwestern area of Morrison County (e.g., Camp Ripley Training Center), and along the Crow Wing, Mississippi, and St. Croix River floodplains.
The participants of the MNBBA documented 251 records of the Red-shouldered Hawk with a pattern of distribution similar to what had been previously reported (Figure 2). These records showed a strong pattern from the southeast in Houston County, northwest to Norman and Polk Counties, and northeast to Itasca and Carlton Counties. Breeding evidence was recorded in 4.0% (188/4,742) of all surveyed blocks and 4.2% (98/2,337) of priority blocks (Figure 3; Table 1). Nesting was confirmed in 43 blocks within 18 counties. The relatively low ratio of confirmed nesting compared with probable and possible nesting (43/131 or 1:3) likely reflects the secretive behavior of this species once nesting has begun (Dykstra et al. 2008).
The Red-shouldered Hawk’s breeding distribution had a strong association with the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province and the southern portion of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. All of these records were highly associated with riparian areas of river, lake, and wetland ecosystems within the mixed deciduous-coniferous forests and, as previously noted, along the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Crow Wing Rivers and their tributaries. Detections were also high in the Twin Cities and Brainerd areas, where river floodplains exist but also where coverage was intensive.
In their review of the Red-shouldered Hawk in North America, Dykstra et al. (2008) mentioned little about distributional changes in the northern portions of its eastern population, except for reported range expansions northward in Michigan. Robbins (1991) thought that Red-shouldered Hawks were probably never common in Wisconsin. He pointed out that observations of this species in the mid-1800s were probably misidentifications with the more common Broad-winged Hawk. Early reports by Kumlien and Hollister (1903) said it was by no means a common bird. Cutright et al. (2006) during their breeding bird atlas from 1995–2000 found that the species was widespread but uncommon throughout Wisconsin.
In summary, the observations of Red-shouldered Hawks in northwestern Minnesota reported by Janssen (1987) and the extensive documentations by the MBS and the MNBBA in north-central Minnesota in comparison with those of Roberts (1932, 1936) and Green and Janssen (1975) suggest a range expansion in Minnesota beginning around the 1930s. Even though Currier’s observations in 1902 and 1903 were from central Minnesota in Cass County, many of the previous reports have emphasized that the species has never been numerous and could have been missed early in the 20th century. Johnson (1982) questioned this supposition because he felt that the species’ extensive calling in early spring and summer render it difficult to overlook.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.