Missouri's Raptors

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

summer, and they winter in southern Missouri, the southern U.S. and Central America.

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
Length—25 inches
Wingspan—58 inches

Black vultures are common in subtropical and tropical America, and some breed as far north as southern Missouri, where they reside from April through September. Occasionally they are seen as far north as central Missouri. Black vultures have a black head, and from below, the wings are mostly black with white patches at the tips. Black vultures often fly higher than turkey vultures and alternate between a series of three to four flaps and soaring.


Pandion haliaetus
Length—24 inches
Wingspan—66 inches

Sometimes called “fish hawks” or “fish eagles,” ospreys are usually seen in spring and fall flying over lakes and rivers where they hunt for fish. Immature ospreys sometimes splash clumsily into water as they hone their fishing skills. Most ospreys are seen in Missouri while migrating to or from Canada or the southern U.S. or Mexican coasts.

Today a handful of breeding ospreys reside here year-round, thanks to reintroduction efforts of captive-reared and -released (or hacked) birds in the 1990s. Reintroduced birds were released into the wild from hacking towers, and in 2000, the first nest and young were observed at Truman Lake. Since then, these birds have been building their huge stick nests in trees and on special nesting platforms, utility poles and even cell phone towers near large bodies of water around the state. Before these reintroduction efforts, the last time osprey nested in Missouri was in 1884.

In flight, osprey hold their wings with a distinct crook at the “elbow,” so the birds resemble the letter M. From above, wings are dark brown; from below, wing linings are white and trailing wings are contrastingly dark. Ospreys have no bony projection above the eye.

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Length—36 inches
Wingspan—84 inches

There is no mistaking a mature bald eagle: Both males and females have a distinct white head and tail, brown body and wings, and a large yellow beak. For the first three years, though, immature eagles are dark brown with varying amounts of white on the underside of the wings. These young birds can be confused with immature golden eagles, which have darker wing linings than immature bald eagles.

In flight, bald eagles hold their wings straight and flat. While the number of year-round resident birds in Missouri continues to increase, most wintering bald eagles here return to their breeding grounds in the northern U.S.

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