Red-shouldered Hawk Returns to Our Garden 2017

Cape May, NJ – Our Red-shouldered Hawk is back! For about four years, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk has appeared in our garden in late November and remained until March. He also visits our neighbors’ yards.

This year he’s perching much closer to our house, in a thicket of trees near our side porch. Our constant comings and goings don’t seem to bother him.

Migrant birds often return to the same spring nesting locations year after year, especially if they have raised young successfully at that site. However, birders and scientists know much less about what happens in the winter. Do these birds go back to the same winter territories each year?


Photo January 2016 by Adam Kashlak

In this case, we think we know the answer.

It’s highly likely that our Red-shouldered Hawk is the same bird that has commandeered our garden trellis in past winters.

First of all, the hawk looks the same. More importantly, his behavior is nearly identical to the bird we saw in previous years. The hawk uses the same perch sites.  He also seems to have habituated to people and does not mind when we walk fairly close to him.

Why would he come back to our garden year after year? It is likely that he’s finding food and is not being harassed. Here’s the story about the Red-Shoulder’s visit in December 2015.

Red-shouldered Hawks can live for up to 20 years, but nearly 95% die before the age of 5. This means that our Red-shouldered Hawk has beaten the odds. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and look for him again next year.


About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.