Is this a Red-Shouldered Hawk? The Answer: No.



edit:  This is a Northern Harrier, either a female, or a juvenile, as explained by the kind people below!    I was mistaken in thinking it was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

I took lots of bird photos today at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.   I captured this hawk flying above the estuary.  I think it looks like a Red-Shouldered hawk, but I’m not sure. Red-Shouldered Hawks are rare in Washington State.  It looks like their range is mostly in Oregon and southward.  I am new to identifying raptors, so would love any expert opinions!


  1. Your post got my attention. Nice picture – but it is a female Northern Harrier. Dead giveaway is the wing position and the white rump patch.

  2. Its a Northern Harrier… The white rump patch, wings held in a “V” and checkered pattern on underside of wings are diagnostic. A Red-shouldered hawk would fly flat and straight with quick wing beats and would have broader more rounded wings. It would have a checkered (black and white) pattern on the top side of its wings and would have contrasting black and white barring in the tail. Nice photo!
    My 2c

  3. That is a Northern Harrier – probably a juvenile. Note the white rump, wings raised well-above horizontal, and in this picture you can even see the owl-like face. The other big clue is the way in which the Harrier hunts, gliding low over open fields and marshes. Northern Harriers are commonly seen at Nisqually. It’s a good place to observe them.

  4. I’m glad you got such a good picture, because unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that the raptor in your photo is of a female Northern Harrier. Harriers have distinctive cinnamon wingbars, a bright white rump patch, and a face like an owl’s. I’m not very familiar with Red-shouldered Hawks, but according to Sibley, they all have a pale and “translucent crescent across outer primaries”, which your bird lacks. Flying low over a field is also typical behavior for a Northern Harrier. What makes it a female is the plain streaking on the front (a juvenile would be orange, and a male would be deathly pale).

    Good try, though! Keep at it! Raptor ID can be tough sometimes!

  5. Thanks for all of the comments and explanations! I’ve updated my species list. I am now even more excited to try to get more raptor photos.

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