9 Types of Hawks in Missouri (Photos + Guide)




Hawks in Missouri

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Hawks in Missouri: Hawks are a diverse group of birds of prey found throughout Missouri’s varied habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and suburban areas. They play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling populations of rodents, small mammals, and other birds.

Lists of Hawks in Missouri:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – As the most common hawk in Missouri, these birds can be frequently seen soaring over open fields and perched in tall trees along major highways.

  2. Cooper’s Hawk – This hawk is often found in woodlands and suburban areas with mature trees. Its fondness for small birds often leads it to backyard bird feeders.

  3. Red-shouldered Hawk – Primarily found in wet, mixed forests, they are more likely to be seen in the southern part of the state, particularly in the Ozarks region.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk – These migratory birds are most commonly found in Missouri’s forested areas during the summer months, specifically in the Mark Twain National Forest.

  5. Northern Harrier – You can spot this species in open habitats like fields and marshes. They are common in the grasslands of Prairie State Park.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk – These secretive birds are found in dense forests throughout the state. They’re often sighted in areas with thick understory like Cuivre River State Park.

  7. Swainson’s Hawk – This species is seen mostly in the western plains of Missouri during migration. They frequent agricultural areas and grasslands.

  8. Rough-legged Hawk – A winter visitor in Missouri, they’re often spotted in open fields and marshes. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge is a good place to spot them.

  9. Northern Goshawk – The least common among Missouri’s hawks, they prefer mature forests and are mostly found in the more remote areas of the state. Their sightings are rare and scattered.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo jamaicensis
Length 45–65 cm (18–26 in)
Wingspan110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in)
Weight690 to 1,600 g (1.5 to 3.5 lb)

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey that is commonly found across North America. This adaptable raptor is known for its brick-red tail, which is most noticeable in adults from above or underneath. The diet of the Red-Tailed Hawk is very diverse, including small mammals like mice and squirrels, as well as birds and reptiles.

This hawk is often seen perched on poles or soaring in wide circles high above fields, forests, and highways. Its habitat is extremely varied, ranging from desert and scrublands to forests and tropical rainforests. Its call, a raspy, screaming kee-eeeee-arr, is often used in movies to represent any bird of prey.

Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers Hawk
Coopers Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter cooperii
Length35 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in) /Female: 42 to 50 cm (17 to 20 in)
Wingspan 62 to 99 cm (24 to 39 in)
WeightMale: 280 g (9.9 oz) in 48/ Female: 473 g (1.043 lb)

Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey in the Accipiter genus, native to the North American continent. It’s named after the American naturalist William Cooper, and distinguished by its slate-gray back, red-barred chest, and rounded tail with broad white terminal band. It is similar in appearance to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk, but can be differentiated by its larger size and rounded tail.

Inhabiting various types of woodland and forests, Cooper’s Hawks are agile predators known for their skill at chasing birds through trees, their primary prey being small to medium-sized birds. They also feed on small mammals and, less commonly, reptiles. They’re noted for their explosive flight pattern, consisting of a few rapid wingbeats followed by a short glide. Cooper’s Hawks nest in trees, and both parents share duties of incubating the eggs and raising the young. Their call is a distinctive, repetitive ‘cak-cak-cak’, often heard during courtship or when disturbed.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo lineatus
Length15 to 23 in
Wingspan35 to 50 in
Weight1.21 lb- 1.5 lb

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus, prevalent in North America. It is characterized by its reddish-brown shoulder patches, from which it derives its name. Other distinctive features include its banded tail and translucent crescents near the wingtips that are visible during flight.

Red-Shouldered Hawks typically inhabit mixed woodlands, often near rivers and swamps, where they hunt for a variety of prey, including small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally other birds. Unlike some other hawk species, they are quite vocal, emitting a distinctive, repetitive whistle that often gives away their presence. These hawks build nests high in deciduous trees where they usually lay 2 to 4 eggs. The pairs are monogamous, often maintaining their bond for many years and defending their territories fiercely.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Broad Winged Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo platypterus
Length13 to 17 in
Wingspan29 to 39 in
Weight9.3 to 19.8 oz

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus. It’s primarily found throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada, migrating long distances to Central and South America for the winter. The bird is named for its relatively broad wings, and it displays a characteristic white band on the tail, which is bordered by two darker bands.

Broad-winged Hawks inhabit deciduous forests and woodlands, where they primarily feed on small mammals, amphibians, insects, and occasionally birds. They are known for their distinctive soaring flight during migration, often traveling in large groups known as “kettles.” These hawks are monogamous and build nests high in trees where the female usually lays 1 to 3 eggs. Their call is a piercing, two-parted whistle, heard most frequently during the breeding season.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier 2
Scientific NameCircus hudsonius
Length41–52 cm (16–20 in)
Wingspan 97–122 cm (38–48 in)
WeightMale 10 to 26 ounces (280 to 730 g)
Female: 11 to 30 ounces (310 to 850 g)

The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that belongs to the Circinae subfamily and stands out due to its distinctively owl-like facial disk, slender body, and long tail. This species exhibits a low and slow flying pattern when hunting, often skimming just above the ground of open fields and marshes. The males are predominantly gray, while the females and young are brown with streaks of white.

Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals and birds. Unique among hawks, these birds possess an owl-like trait of using auditory cues as well as visual ones to locate and catch prey. They’re also known for their polygynous breeding system, where a male may have up to five mates at once, each nesting in different locations within his territory.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Sharp Shinned Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter striatus
Length23 – 30 cm
Wingspan17 to 23 in
Weight82 – 120 g

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest member of the Accipiter genus found in North America. Noted for its slender body and short, rounded wings, this hawk is characterized by its blue-gray back and barred orange or reddish underparts. The name “sharp-shinned” refers to the bird’s thin, pencil-like lower leg.

Sharp-shinned Hawks inhabit forests and woodlands, where they exhibit agility and stealth in hunting small birds, their primary food source, although they occasionally consume rodents and insects. They’re known for their impressive flight pattern involving quick, successive wingbeats followed by short glides. When it comes to nesting, they favor coniferous trees and both parents participate in raising their young. Their call, often heard during courtship or territory disputes, is a high-pitched, repetitive ‘kik-kik-kik’.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainsons Hawk
Swainsons Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo swainsoni
Length17–22 in
Wingspan46–54 in
Weight1.8 lb – 2.5 lb

Swainson’s Hawk, a raptor in the Buteo genus, is recognized by its long wings and somewhat small bill. Named after British ornithologist William Swainson, this hawk is notable for its long-distance migration, travelling from its breeding grounds in North America to wintering areas in Argentina, one of the longest migratory journeys of any American raptor.

The diet of Swainson’s Hawks changes with the seasons. During the breeding season, they primarily feed on rodents and birds (burrowing owls if they are in abundance), while they shift to a diet of insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles, during migration and in their wintering grounds. They are also known for their soaring flight pattern and their distinctive two-part call that sounds like a plaintive whistle.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough legged Hawk
Rough legged Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo lagopus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan47 to 60 in
Weight1.32 to 3.66 lb

The Rough-legged Hawk, also a member of the Buteo genus, is named for its feathered legs that are adapted to cold environments in its Arctic breeding grounds. Characterized by a wide variety of plumage, all individuals display a characteristic dark “wrist” patch on the underwing, and a white base to the tail. The light morphs are predominantly white and brown, while the dark morphs are more uniformly dark brown.

Rough-legged Hawks are known for their unique hovering flight behavior when hunting for small mammals, which make up a significant portion of their diet. During the breeding season, these hawks are found in the tundra of the Arctic, where they nest on cliffs or bluffs. In winter, they migrate to southern Canada and the northern United States, becoming one of the few raptors that can adjust well to the cold weather conditions.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter gentilis
LengthMale: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in) / Female: 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 in)
Wingspan89 to 105 cm (35 to 41 in)/ Female: 108 to 127 cm (43 to 50 in)

The Northern Goshawk is a large bird of prey and the largest member of the Accipiter genus. Native to the Northern Hemisphere, it’s characterized by its slate-gray upperparts, finely barred underparts, and prominent white eyebrow stripe. The name “goshawk” originates from the Old English term for “goose hawk,” denoting the bird’s prowess at hunting large prey.

Northern Goshawks inhabit large, uninterrupted forests, where they are skilled hunters of a wide range of prey, including small mammals and medium to large birds. They are particularly agile fliers, often chasing prey through densely forested environments. These hawks are monogamous, with pairs often returning to the same nesting territory year after year. Their nests are built high in trees, and their breeding season is heralded by spectacular aerial displays and a loud, repetitive ‘kak-kak-kak’ call.

Hawk-Watching Hotspots in Missouri

Missouri, blessed with diverse landscapes ranging from sprawling grasslands to dense forests, serves as an excellent habitat for various hawk species. Below are some of the top locations where you are likely to encounter these magnificent raptors:

  1. Mark Twain National Forest: A great destination to spot Broad-winged Hawks, especially during the summer months.

  2. Ozarks Region: The lush, mixed forests here are a perfect dwelling for the Red-shouldered Hawks.

  3. Cuivre River State Park: With its dense forests, this park is a promising spot to see the elusive Sharp-shinned Hawks.

  4. Prairie State Park: The open fields and marshlands here make it an ideal habitat for Northern Harriers.

  5. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge: Visit during the winter season to observe the Rough-legged Hawks in their natural habitat.

  6. Highways and open fields: Red-tailed Hawks are often seen soaring above these areas or perched high in roadside trees.

Most hawk species in Missouri are either residents or migratory birds that visit during certain seasons. For instance, Broad-winged Hawks are common summer residents, while Rough-legged Hawks visit during winter. As such, the time of year significantly influences the variety of hawks you might encounter.

Hawks are more active during the day, making them easier to spot compared to other birds of prey. They can often be seen soaring high in the sky in search of prey or perched on high vantage points like treetops or telephone poles. Some species, like the Cooper’s Hawk, are known to venture into suburban areas, even visiting backyard bird feeders.

While Missouri offers an impressive array of hawk species, extending your exploration into the neighboring states will bring even more rewarding experiences. Crossing the Mississippi, the “Land of Lincoln” offers its own hawk-watching experiences in Illinois. Travel westwhere the hawks soar across Kansas landscapes.

If you head south towards the ‘Natural State’, you’ll discover Arkansas’s hawk species. Neighboring Kentucky has rich hawk diversity. In these states, from dense forests to rolling plains, hawks such as Red-shouldered and majestic eagles reign supreme.

On the northern frontier, the Iowa prairies have various hawks, including the elegant Northern Harriers. The unique environments each of these states provide enrich the captivating narratives of the Midwest’s hawks.

10 Interesting Facts about Hawks in Missouri

  1. Year-round Residents: Hawks such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are year-round residents in Missouri, adapting to the state’s diverse habitats.

  2. Migratory Patterns: Missouri serves as an important stopover for migratory hawks, with species like the Broad-winged Hawk passing through during their annual migration.

  3. Ecological Role: Hawks play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling populations of rodents, small mammals, and other birds.

  4. Diverse Habitats: Hawks in Missouri can be found in a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and suburban areas.

  5. Nesting Habits: Hawks build their nests using sticks, twigs, and other materials in tall trees, often reusing the same nest year after year.

  6. Impressive Wingspan: Hawks have impressive wingspans, with the Red-tailed Hawk boasting one of the widest spans, reaching up to 4.5 feet.

  7. Keen Eyesight: Hawks have excellent eyesight, allowing them to spot prey from high altitudes while in flight.

  8. Swift and Agile: Hawks are known for their speed and agility, enabling them to swiftly dive and maneuver in pursuit of prey.

  9. Varied Diets: Hawks have diverse diets, feeding on a range of prey including rodents, birds, snakes, and insects.

  10. Conservation Efforts: Missouri has implemented conservation programs and initiatives to protect hawks and their habitats, ensuring their long-term survival.

FAQS on Hawks in Missouri

What is the most common hawk in Missouri?

The most common hawk species in Missouri is the Red-tailed Hawk. This bird can be spotted year-round in tall trees and on telephone poles, observing their territory for prey. With its pale brown feathers and broad wings, this bird is a magnificent sight for bird watchers.

What is the biggest hawk in Missouri?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk species found in Missouri. Known for its large size among North American raptors, this bird has an impressive wingspan and is recognizable by its deep brown feathers. They prefer open fields where they can scout for ground squirrels and other small prey.

What is the smallest hawk in Missouri?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species in Missouri. It’s easily identified by its blue-gray upperparts and long, squared-off tail. These small hawks are also known to be agile fliers, often seen darting through dense forests in pursuit of smaller birds.

When is breeding season for hawks in Missouri?

For most hawks in Missouri, the breeding season occurs in the spring, between March and May. This is the time when you can see pairs of these magnificent birds nesting in tall trees within dense forests. It’s a wonderful time for bird watchers to observe their courtship displays and nesting habits.

What do hawks eat in Missouri?

Hawks in Missouri are opportunistic predators and have a varied diet. They primarily eat birds, small mammals such as ground squirrels, and sometimes even young turtles. Larger hawk species like the Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks have been known to take down larger birds and mammals.

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