Missouri's Raptors

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

are permitted to work with birds of prey.

Do not feed the bird, give it water or move it until talking with a rehabber. Remember that raptors have sharp talons and powerful beaks. Even young or injured birds can hurt you if you handle them. For more information, visit the University of Missouri’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project’s Web site at

What eats raptors? Raccoons, bobcats and coyotes will sometimes eat raptors that are on the ground, especially injured raptors or young raptors that are learning to fly. Many animals, including raccoons, snakes and other birds, will eat raptor eggs. Larger raptors will eat smaller raptors. Also, some female raptors will kill and eat their mates or young if food is especially scarce.

What is a chicken hawk? When people use the term chicken hawk, they are probably referring to a red-tailed hawk because these are the hawks most readily seen. Red-tails eat a wide variety of prey, although not many birds. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks prey almost exclusively upon small birds, and all three hawks may hunt chickens if given the opportunity.

What are the hawks that I see near my bird feeder? Cooper’s, merlins and sharp-shinned hawks have adapted to wooded suburbs and are attracted to concentrations of small birds, including those around bird feeders. These hawks are swift and agile, able to catch birds in flight.

What are the large hawks I see perched along the highway? Those are most likely red-tailed hawks, the most abundant large hawks in Missouri. Grassy highway medians are ideal habitat for small rodents and snakes, which red-tails hunt from their perches in large trees or power line poles. When perched, red-tails appear to have a puffy white chest and a brown band of feathers at the belly. The characteristic red tail of the adults is often visible.

What are the small hawks I see hovering over the median along the highway? They are probably American kestrels. These small, colorful raptors perch on telephone wires or hover over grassy highway medians, quickly beating their wings before they dive to the ground to seize a grasshopper or mouse.

Do raptors mate for life? Many raptors form pair bonds, meaning they have one mate during their lifetime. This may be due to attachment of the birds to nest sites, rather than loyalty to each other. Both the male and female may bond to a successful nest site, and both return there

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