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Backyard Birds – Hawks and Their Calls

Bird watching year after year, you begin to have favorite birds that visit your feeders. You know the comings and goings of the common feeder birds as they stop by to eat each day; sparrows early in the day, scrub jays perched on top, the titmouse speeding in and out.

But sometimes you have birds that bless you with a rare visit…not even to the feeder but still close to your yard and within binocular range of your front window. We have had several hawk visitors over the years that we have observed in this way. This week there was a bird on the telephone wire across the street from our house. I spotted it from the window and then grabbed my binoculars. I grabbed my “big” camera with the really good zoom lens and stepped outside and across the street to see if I could capture him in an image.

It was as if he was posing for me. The look on his face was cautiously curious. I snapped away and here are a couple of frames that really give you a feel for this beautiful hawk.

I think he is a Red-shouldered hawk, both from the description in my field guide, looking at AllAboutBirds, and listening to him as he later soared up in the sky.

Isn’t this a magnificent bird? Look at all those colorful feathers and the patterns are amazing. All hawks are beauties but this one is especially beautiful…I am in awe.

Here is what says about the call of the Red-shouldered hawk:

“A Red-shouldered Hawk’s most common call is a plaintive, rising whistle that sounds like kee-ahh. The call tends to be repeated 5–12 times, with each note lasting about half a second. Hawks use it to claim their territory and when alarmed.”

So now that I can listen for the two syllable call (kee-aah) of the Red-shouldered hawk, I will easily be able to identify it when I hear it while on hikes. There are several other hawks I hear from time to time and they are much different:
Sharp-shinned hawk – which says kik-kik-kik.
Red-tailed hawk – which says keee-eeeek-aar (like a scream)
Cooper’s hawk – which says cak-cak-cak-cak-cak

Do you have hawks in your neighborhood? Can you identify them by their call?

According to the Cornell website, many hawks are now stalking backyard birdfeeders and finding a meal of smaller birds to be much easier than hunting in the wild. I thought that was interesting.

6 thoughts on “Backyard Birds – Hawks and Their Calls

  1. Great photos! We live in the suburbs but across from an empty field, and hawks often perch on the telephone wires across the street or soar above our neighborhood. I haven’t been able to identify them yet, but I think most of them are Cooper’s Hawks. Thanks for the info on the various calls–very helpful. I’m thinking just listening might help me make a positive ID.

  2. I see hawks around here every day, often in our backyard! There is a maple tree right outside my bedroom window and our girl hawk swooped down into it, but I missed getting a photo. 🙁

  3. What an amazing bird! I saw a hawk last year while getting ready for the GBBC, but my kids didn’t get to see it.
    Funny story: In my house a new-to-us bird outside is grounds for everyone to come running to the window. Well, my distance vision is decreasing as I get older. A few weeks ago I gave the call that I saw a hawk on the swing set. Everyone came running, I grabbed my big camera…turns out it was one of the supports for the glider. I may never live it down.

  4. Wow! What GREAT photos!

    We see hawks fairly regularly. We were sitting on our back porch a few weeks ago and saw one swoop down, grabbing a squirrel off an oak branch in mid flight carrying it straight down to the ground. What was amazing was that another squirrel from the same nest came down the tree and after a second or so jumped at the hawk. The hawk flew off with the first squirrel. The second squirrel tumbled a little but got up, sniffing the ground intently for a few minutes, but eventually got back to business. It was a little sad…

  5. We see them regularly. We even observed a nesting mother last spring. Now we are on the horns of a dilemma about feeding the songbirds. There is not much cover in our wide open yard. I don’t want to just be creating a Songbird All-You-Can-Eat buffet!
    And Heidi, GREAT story! Thanks for the laugh! Mother Robin’s Notes from the Nest

  6. Celeste-Learning the calls is a great key in identifying hawks…I am hoping to learn all four so I can do it well.

    Jamie-Do you know what kind of hawk it is? Just curious.

    Heidi -I keep binoculars right by my window so I can see our feeder birds..Great story!

    Sara- Hawk vs. Squirrel…what an amazing experience! Brutal but interesting.

    Leslie – I know what you mean. I know that the sharp-shinned hawk we have in our neighborhood eats birds at the feeders..makes me mad but my boys remind me it is the circle of life. 🙁

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