Missouri's Raptors

This content is archived

Published on: Jan. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

and feed along forested streams and rivers. Canoeists often see them soaring above streams. Although they are more likely to be seen in the Ozarks and Mississippi Lowlands, red-shouldered hawks live throughout the state—even in suburbs with wooded draws. Migrating birds from the north increase the numbers seen in winter. Adults are striking in appearance, with black and white barring on wing feathers and tail, rounded wing tips and rusty shoulders.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Buteo platypterus
Length—16 inches
Wingspan—33 inches

The smallest of the buteos in Missouri, broad-wings may nest and breed in forested regions of the state, especially in the Ozarks and Ozark Border regions, but are more commonly seen during migration. In flight, the underside of adult birds is light-colored, with the wings bordered in black all the way to the tip, which tapers to a point. Broad-wings are one of the few North American raptors that flock during migration. Kettles of hundreds of these hawks are sometimes seen in Missouri in late April and the third week of September, and kettles of tens of thousands of birds can be seen during migration in the southern U.S., Mexico and Central America.

Rough-Legged Hawk

Buteo lagopus
Length—22 inches
Wingspan—56 inches

Rough-legged hawks nest on cliffs in the far northern Arctic, and are occasionally seen in Missouri during the winter, when the birds migrate to the northern U.S. In Missouri, these large hawks hunt in open grasslands and crop fields, soaring with their long wings slightly uptilted, or perching in small trees. During years when their prey to the north decreases, more birds are likely to be present in Missouri. This hawk gets its name from its feathered legs—all the way to the toes. There are light and dark color morphs of these hawks, which can be identified by their tail bands. Its strong but small feet are adapted for hunting small rodents.


Unlike most buteos, accipiters mainly frequent wooded areas. They have shorter, rounded wings and longer tails. This body form allows them to weave in and out of tree branches and brush in pursuit of prey. They often capture other birds—their main prey—in flight. Accipiters are most abundant during spring and fall, when songbirds are migrating. Accipiters are becoming more common in Missouri, probably due to the reduction of long-lived pesticides in the environment. Bird feeders apparently play a role in accipiter abundance, as well, by attracting a concentration of bird prey.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus
Length—11–14 inches

Content tagged with

Shortened URL