Missouri's Raptors

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

and mate with each other. If one of the pair dies, the other often will take a new mate. Male harriers will mate with several females if prey is especially abundant, taking advantage of plentiful food to increase harrier populations.

How long do raptors live? In captivity, raptors—especially larger species—have lived 30 to 50 years in captivity, depending on the species. In the wild their typical life span is much shorter, ranging from about 5 to 20 years. This is due to periodic shortages of prey, severe weather, predators, competition and disease. Up to 70 percent of raptors die within their first year of life.

Some raptors in Missouri have died from West Nile virus, but not at levels that threaten their statewide populations. Raptors also become injured or die due to habitat loss, illegal shooting, baited traps intended for other animals, carelessly discarded fishing line, collisions with power lines and cars, and ingestion of toxic chemicals, including household pesticides, at dump sites.


Vultures differ from other raptors in that they rarely hunt prey, living primarily on carrion (dead animals). They feed their young regurgitated carrion instead of fresh meat. Vultures are well adapted to scavenge. Unlike most other birds, they have a keen sense of smell, assisted by the large hole in their beaks, which they use, along with sight and sound, to locate carrion. Their heads have no feathers, which helps keep the birds clean when feeding. They also are relatively immune to microbes found in rotten meat that can cause botulism and other diseases.

Vultures are voiceless except for hissing and grunting. They nest in sheltered areas, like caves along cliff faces. Black vultures sometimes follow turkey vultures, taking advantage of their keener sense of smell to locate carrion. Up to several hundred black and turkey vultures may roost together during migration.

Note: All bird lengths are from beak to tail tip.

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura
Length—27 inches
Wingspan—70 inches

Turkey vultures often soar along bluffs or circle in a group above a night roost. They forage by flying across many rural acres in search of tasty smells wafting from below. They have a large black body and a small, red, naked head. From below, they are two-toned: wing-linings are dark and the trailing portion of the wings appears lighter. Turkey vultures often tilt from side to side while soaring, with the wings held in a V-position. Turkey vultures are common statewide in

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