Sometimes hawks, in particular, Red-shouldered Hawks will go all Turdus migratorious, hop on the ground and nosh some slimy earth worms.  There’s even video proof of a Red-shouldered Hawk eating earthworms on Flickr and there’s been discussion about this on MD bird listserv.

This discussion about red-shoulders comes up from time to time and it throws people off, “Wait, hawks are raptors, they should be going for meat!” But a lot of birds of prey like to sample the lighter fare on the invertebrate menu: kites and small falcons eat dragonflies, screech-owls eat beetles and even Swainson’s Hawks will follow a tractor to get grasshoppers that are kicked up.

Red-shouldered Hawks are opportunists and in my mind, whenever weird hawk diets are reported, before I read the article, I always place an imaginary bet with myself that the culprit is one of these guys. They embody “opportunity” whether it’s using a new food source or eating bugs.  Above is a photo Art Drauglis captured of a red-shoulder making off with meat put out for Marabou Storks at the Washington D.C. Zoo.  I’ve heard of parks in Florida that have red-shoulders who have figured out how to grab chicken pieces off of grills as an easy food source. When I worked at a wild bird store, one of my customers had her own Red-shouldered Hawk feeder. She would put out a chicken thigh a day (or sometimes a frog) on a wooden tray feeder and the hawk would immediately come down and take the food. The hawk associated her as such a reliable source of food, that she could call her name for it and the hawk would fly in and await the food.

I headed over to Cornell’s Birds of North America online to see what they had in their notes about the diet of Red-shouldered Hawks.  I was surprised to find that the diet and foraging habits of the hawk are not well studied–hello grad student project!  Here’s one of the most common hawks in urban areas (and one of the prettiest) and it needs further study!  Although, they are kind of noisy buggers, so I could understand the reluctance to work with them.

I’ve seen red-shoulders go for snakes, rodents, bugs, birds, frogs and once a garden hose (although I’m sure it thought it found a huge snake).

What kinds of things have you seen a red-shouldered hawk go for?

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Written by Birdchick
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.