On a post that I made earlier this week about a red-shouldered hawk, that I relocated, AW posted a comment asking how the red-shouldered hawk flies with respect to the red-tailed hawk. This was a great question and one that, quite frankly, I was not sure what the answer was. So I did a little bit of research and here is what I have found. Most online resources that I found do not explain very well, if at all, the flight patterns of the birds. However the Carolina Raptor Center website does include an explanation of flight in each raptors description.
The active flight of the red-shouldered hawk is accipiter like, with 3-5 quick shallow beats followed by a period of gliding. When it is soaring the wingtips of the red-shouldered hawk droop slightly, and it does not hover. Other features that can help identify a red-shoulder in flight are the translucent crescents at the base of the primaries, the smaller size and the longer tail. The photo above was taken in California in 2007 and is a good example of the shape of the red-shouldered in flight.
The active flight of the red-tailed hawk has slow deep wing beats. When it is soaring the red-tail will usually have its wings in a slight dihedral, or V shape. The red-tail can also hover or kite in the wind. Red-tails typically appear stockier with a shorter tail that often has a red tone to it. The above red-tail photo was also taken in California in 2007 and shows the differences in the wing shape between the two species of buteos.
The differences in flight may correlate to each species preferred habitat. The red-shouldered hawk is usually found in wooded area near to a water source. Red-tails are a border species who typically live at the edge of the woods where it meets open field. Since red-tails do much of their hunting over open fields they can spend a lot of time soaring and conserve energy. Birds that live inside more forested areas, such as red-shouldered hawks, would need to do more flapping and maneuvering to get around. Their longer tail would help them in their maneuvering.
Thanks AW for visiting my site and asking a great question. One of the great things that I have found out about blogging is that I seem to learn something new all the time which in the end is making me more knowlegeable and a better birder.