Roadside Raptors

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

nest. The fresh greens repel parasites and help hide the nestlings.

Broad-winged hawks

Broad-winged hawks also find good hunting along our roadsides. They're brown, crow-sized birds that sometimes appear a bit sluggish. Their wailing whistle, sueeee-oh, doesn't sound much like a hawk. Look for their broad, black-and-white tail band.

Broad-wings stay in Missouri during spring and summer and spend the winter in South America. Near the end of September, they move in great flocks called kettles, rising on thermals and then coasting until they can catch another thermal. As many as a thousand broad-wings have been sighted at once passing over Jefferson City and St. Louis. Over 19,000 were counted in one day as they winged their way over Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania.

Broad-wings live in forests, especially along rivers and creeks. They hunt by watching from a perch for small mammals, birds, frogs, toads, snakes and insects.

At nesting time, broad-wings return to the area they used the year before and build a new nest, usually in a crotch of a tree. The stick nest is lined with bark and moss and green leaves that the birds pull directly from the tree.

Northern Harrier

If you're passing a field or meadow or marshy ground, you may spy a slim bird with a white rump and long wings flying slow and near to the ground. It may seem to tilt a bit as it flies.

The northern harrier is the only North American member of a group of hawks know as harriers. Harriers seldom look for prey from a perch as do other hawks and falcons. Instead, they hunt by flying low to the ground during much of the day, taking small creatures by surprise. Their owl-like, disk-shaped face helps amplify sound, which helps them find prey.

Northern harrier courtship is a spectacular affair. They perform steep dives and climbs, and they somersault in a series of quick loops with the bird upside down at the top of the loops. Mating and nesting follow these exciting performances.

Northern harriers used to be called marsh hawks. The males are gray overall. Females are brown.

Harriers are one of the few hawks to nest on the ground. They lay four or five eggs in a mound of dead reeds and grass in meadows, or in or near marshes. They nest less frequently in Missouri now due to wetland drainage and the reduction in prairies and meadows. Except during the nesting season, harriers are common

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