Plants and Animals
Species of Concern
- Common Name: Northern harrier
- Scientific Name: Circus cyaneus
- Range: Statewide
- Classification: State imperiled
- To learn more about endangered species: explore the links listed below.
Northern harriers are easy to recognize by their slender, rounded wings, their white rumps and their low, slow flight over grassy or marshy areas. They are medium-sized, with 42-inch wingspans. Unlike most hawks, harriers (formerly known as “marsh hawks”) hunt both by sight and hearing. The feathers on their faces are arranged like those of owls, forming dishes that catch sounds made by their prey, mainly mice and other small mammals. Missourians are most likely to see harriers in the fall and winter, when cold weather pushes thousands of the graceful hawks into the Show-Me State from the upper Midwest and Canada. Harriers need large expanses of open grassland to nest. Most such habitat no longer exists in Missouri, which is why harriers are seldom seen here in the summer. The birds benefit from preservation of native prairie and from the Conservation Reserve Program, which encourages landowners to establish grassland for erosion control and wildlife habitat.
Watch for these fleeting blossoms.
Now is the time to see Missouri’s most fleeting flowers—frost flowers. These delicate white blossoms form when water sucked out of the soil by a dead plant’s roots emerges into frigid air. They can be tiny rosebuds or broad wings on standing stems. Autumn rain and early frost favor their formation. Dittany and yellow ironweed are reliable producers, but frost flowers grow on other plants, too. Look for them early in the day. Frost flowers melt in the morning sun.
Fattening up to sleep the winter away.
Do you wish you could skip winter? Woodchucks do. By mid-November, nearly all these 10-pound rodents are snoozing in woodland burrows 3 to 6 feet underground. They line their 16-inch bedroom chambers with leaves and grass, often sealing entrances with dirt. Older, fatter woodchucks hit the hay first, while younger, thinner ones continue to forage, building energy reserves for their extended nap. Woodchucks’ body temperature drops to around 50 F during hibernation, and their breathing slows to practically nothing. Some come out briefly during warm spells, but mostly they stay underground until spring. Their sleep is so profound that it takes several hours to wake up, even when they are warmed to normal temperature. Woodchucks (Marmota monax) are found from Alabama to Alaska.