Missouri's Raptors

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

/>Wingspan—22–28 inches

Sharp-shinned hawks look like smaller versions of Cooper’s hawks. They differ in the following ways, however: The sharp-shin’s tail is squared off at the tip, rather than rounded, and has a slate-gray head and neck, in contrast to a Cooper’s black cap of feathers. A sharp-shin’s flight is less direct than a Cooper’s, and both alternate flapping and sailing. Sharp-shinned hawks occupy the same habitat as Cooper’s, but rarely reside in Missouri year-round. Sharp-shins are most often seen here during migration and in winter.

Cooper’s Hawk

Accipiter cooperii
Length—15–18 inches
Wingspan—30–36 inches

Cooper’s hawks reside in Missouri year-round, but little is known about their nesting success. Cooper’s hawks mainly hunt in forests, but are increasingly common in wooded suburban and urban areas and will perch on telephone poles as well as trees. If you see a crow-sized hawk near your bird feeder, chances are it is a Cooper’s hawk, hunting for songbirds. Adult Cooper’s hawks have blue-gray wings above, and are sometimes called blue-darters. From below, they have horizontal, rusty barring. Their black-and-white barred tail is rounded at the tip.

Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis
Length—21–25 inches
Wingspan—40–46 inches

These large accipiters live year-round in the extreme northern U.S., Canada and western states. They are rarely seen in Missouri, but venture here in winter when hare populations are scarce. They hunt in hedgerows, along tree lines and sometimes in urban areas. They are about the same size as a red-tailed hawk, but in flight their wing tips appear more tapered. Northern goshawks have a distinct white “eyebrow,” and adults are gray above and light gray below. In the photo at left, the Northern goshawk is molting into alternate adult plumage.


Falcons are overall the smallest and fastest group of raptors. They have pointed, angled wings and are master flyers.

American Kestrel

Falco sparverius
Length—9–11 inches
Wingspan—20–23 inches

Formerly called sparrow hawks, American kestrels are the most common falcon in North America. In Missouri, they reside year-round in open countryside and urban areas. They are most likely to be seen in spring and fall, hovering over grassy highway medians before they dive to the ground to seize prey. Adult males are the most colorful raptor in North America. They have a bright, rusty back and tail, bluish-black wings, orange-brown breast, blue and rusty head, and dark and light barring on the neck. Rather than building nests in the open, in trees or atop platforms or cliffs, like other raptors, American kestrels

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