Hawks In Missouri: Can You Spot All 9 Species?

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There are lots of exciting things to know about the state of Missouri. For starters, this great state was given its name, which means “the wooden canoe people,” by a tribe of Sioux Indians, and Kansas City has more fountains than any other city in the world except Rome.

Besides its interesting history and amusing fun facts, Missouri is also known for being home to almost 400 of the 900 species of birds that live in North America.

If you’re an avid bird watcher, you can encounter 25 species of hawks in the United States, but only several types of hawks live in every state, depending on the climate and food sources. Nine of these species, however, may be encountered in Missouri, and in this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the birds of prey you’ll find there.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus
  • Length: 9.4-13.4 inches
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 inches

The sharp-shinned hawk is one of the smallest raptors in North America, and it can be found in all the U.S. states, including Missouri. However, in the wintertime, this hawk migrates north to Canada and Alaska where it breeds.

Compared to other hawks, this one has round and short wings. Adult birds of this species have orange markings on their chests, covering their blue-gray bodies, and female hawks are bigger than males.

When hunting for its prey, which mainly includes mammals and rodents during the non-breeding season, the sharp-shinned hawk uses heavy vegetation to cover itself. But occasionally, this bird will emerge from the plants and ambush songbirds at your backyard bird feeder. If one of these birds of prey shows up at your house, you’ll need to take your feeder down for a while until the hawk finds a new spot.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Length: 17.7-25.6 inches
  • Weight: 24.3-51.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 inches

The red-tailed hawk is the most commonly found hawk species in North America. They total almost two million hawks, which makes up about 90 percent of the world’s population of red-tailed birds of prey.

These birds look dark brown with paler feathers around their bottom parts. The most significant part of the body is the tail, which is pale yellow with cinnamon-reddish feathers that give the hawk its name.

The red-tailed hawk is a smart hunter and keeps its eyes on the prey until it’s the right time to descend to catch it off-guard. The wings have a rather heavy wingbeat, and the birds are more active early in the morning.

Red-tailed hawks hunt a variety of prey, including smaller mammals and rodents like rabbits, squirrels, mice, and moles. In some cases, they feed on blackbirds, starlings, and pheasants; naturally, these birds will feel extremely uncomfortable when these hawks are nearby.

Although this hawk can be easily found on fence posts around residential areas, it’s unlikely to attack pets like cats or dogs. 

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 15-24 inches
  • Weight: 1.21-1.5 pounds
  • Wingspan: 35-50 inches

The mighty red-shouldered hawk can be found in the state year-round, especially around southern Missouri. If you keep your eyes on the sky, you can easily see this bird flying in the sky or perched on utility lines.

Though these hawks look a lot like the red-tailed species, the red-shouldered hawk is slightly smaller and sports a black tail instead of a red one. You can also identify these birds by their extraordinary calls as you look for them around bodies of water and forest areas.

This hawk’s diet is mostly composed of small mammals, reptiles, rodents, and amphibians that can be easily found around its habitat.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 14.6-17.7 inches
  • Weight: 7.8-24 ounces
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 inches

Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are often mistaken for one another, as many birdwatchers can attest that the Cooper’s hawk is just a bigger version of a sharpie.

Cooper’s hawk is named after naturalist William Cooper and is smaller than most hawks, measuring about the size of a crow. Younger birds have brown upper bodies until they reach adulthood. Then, they change to a blue-gray color. These hawks also have reddish bars on their underparts.

A hawk range map for this species will show that it covers most of North America and can be found in Missouri year-round. You might spot this skillful raptor while it’s hunting; it usually flies fast before quickly lowering itself down to take its prey off-guard.

The Cooper’s hawk can be commonly found in forests, backyards, and around bird feeders, and because it also has a reputation for stalking livestock and farm birds, it’s also known as the chicken hawk.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
  • Length: 13-17 inches
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 29-39 inches

You’ll be able to spot the broad-winged hawk in Missouri during its breeding season. This bird has a loud piercing whistle and feeds on rodents, small mammals, amphibians, and even insects.

Younger broad-winged hawks are light brown with streaking patterns on their underparts. When they reach adulthood, however, the birds grow reddish-brown feathers on their heads and sport white bands on the tail.

When it comes to migration, this species is quite impressive and will travel in flocks of thousands. On average, each hawk will fly for about 62 miles a day and will spend most of its time flying around trees. 

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis
  • Length: 20.9-25.2 inches
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 inches

The northern goshawk is a big hawk, almost the size of the red-tailed but bigger than the sharp-shinned species. It has short wings and a long tail. Younger hawks of this species are brown, but they change their colors when they reach adulthood; then, they sport dark gray upperparts and barred, pale gray underparts. They also have orange-red eyes and white feathers above them that look a bit like eyebrows.

This hawk is rather scarce in Missouri, and the non-breeding population is relatively hard to find. When they’re around, they usually nest high up in trees. These goshawks fly with slow wingbeats and feed on a wide range of animals, including mammals, smaller birds, rodents, amphibians, and even insects.

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
  • Length: 18-24 inches
  • Weight: 1.32-3.66 pounds
  • Wingspan: 47-60 inches

The rough-legged hawk is one of the largest hawk species that can be found in North America and one of only two American hawks that have feathers all the way down to their toes. This characteristic not only makes the hawk easy to spot and gives it its name, but it also keeps it warm in cold environments.

There are two variations of this hawk — light morph and dark morph — and females and males of both morphs have different-colored plumage.

You will be able to watch the non-breeding population of the rough-legged hawk in Missouri during the winter season where they’ll likely be perched atop utility poles and fence posts searching for their next meal. Rough-legged hawks feed on smaller mammals and rodents, but when it heads to the arctic to breed, its diet mostly consists of lemmings. During the non-breeding season, however, the larger hawks’ menu becomes more varied, and it will eat about one-tenth of its body mass!

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Length: 17-22 inches
  • Weight: 1.1-3.7 pounds
  • Wingspan: 46-54 inches

Swainson’s hawk is one of the few hawk species you’ll find chasing insects on the ground. They gather in large kettles to perch on utility lines and fence posts to hunt rodents or chase swarms of grasshoppers and dragonflies. It’s most common for people to find this hawk from April to September, as it prefers the warmer months.

Although the Swainson’s hawk occurs in dark and light morphs, the light morph is more common. Hawks with darker plumage are rarer to find and only represent 10 percent of Swainson’s birds found in the United States. Most of these hawks have light-colored bellies, reddish-brown chests, and gray underpants. Dark morphs may have dark-reddish to almost black bodies, and while females usually have brown heads, those of the males are typically gray.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

  • Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius
  • Length: 18.1-19.7 inches
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 inches

You can find the northern harrier in Missouri during the winter season. You’ll recognize it by its owl-shaped head, rather slim body, and long tail. Its similarities to the owl don’t stop here, however. Birds of this species don’t just use their eyes to find their food; they also locate their prey by sound, which is a characteristic shared with their presumably wise counterparts.

Males of this species look gray while the females are brown, and as they fly, the northern harriers keep their wings in a V-shape.

This bird is a skilled raptor that feeds on rodents and mammals. It sometimes catches larger prey like rabbits or ducks, but it will try to drown the prey first.

Wrap Up

With 13.9 million acres of forests and 91 state parks to explore, you’re likely to see a lot of interesting birds in Missouri. If you’re a fan of hawks, keep an eye on fencing posts and utility lines, and you’ll spot one for sure!

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