Roadside Raptors

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

are common residents of Missouri. They are the only North American falcon or hawk that nests in cavities, such as woodpecker holes or crevices in cliffs, barns and buildings. They don't shy away from developed areas, and will even nest in large cities.

While handling the household duties of nesting and rearing young, the female kestrel depends on the male to bring home food. He does his job of hunter well. After he captures prey, he flies back with it, calling as he nears the nest. The female, hearing the call, leaves the nest and follows her mate to a landing spot where she takes the food.

Red-tailed hawks

Red-tailed hawks also are common along Missouri's roadsides. They are stocky brown birds much bigger than kestrels. They often perch on utility poles or fence posts, or on tree branches in winter. A close look reveals their dark belly-band and reddish tail. Red-tailed hawks frequent prairies, forests, mountains, deserts, farmlands and even suburban areas. If you look out across open country in mid-morning, you may spot red-tails seeming to float on warm air currents rising from the ground.

Riding a wing span of about 4 feet, red-tails soar over the countryside looking for small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Any creature they can catch and kill is likely to be part of their diet. Red-tails also like to hunt from tree limbs, utility poles and other perches. Their sharp eyes can catch the slightest movement below.

Red-tails are not shy. They guard their territory, and if they spot an intruding hawk, they'll go after it. With legs down and screaming a piercing, high-pitched cry, they dive at the other bird and try to hit it with their talons. They may also attack an intruder perched nearby with the same talon-strike and scream. Red-tails will even dive at and chase much larger birds, including golden eagles and bald eagles.

Red-tail pairs may stay together for years on the same territory. When nesting time comes in mid-March (the earliest nesting time of all Missouri hawks), they may build a new nest of sticks and bark or renovate the same nest they used the year before. Nests that have been used for years may be three or more feet high. The birds usually bring fresh greenery to the nest - sprigs of leaves or pine needles - until the young birds (two is the usual number) fledge and leave the

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