9 Hawks in Missouri (With Pictures)

9 Hawks in Missouri (With Pictures)

Missouri, a state with rich forests, sprawling prairies, and meandering rivers, provides an ideal habitat for various hawk species. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of Missouri’s hawks, exploring their habits, habitats, and the role they play in the local ecosystem.

Our journey takes us across the state’s varied landscapes, from the Ozark Mountains to the Mississippi River plains, where these birds of prey thrive.

We’ll examine the characteristics of species like the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk, while looking at their unique adaptations and behaviors.

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Life span: 10-15 years
  • Size: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
  • Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

Elegant in flight and fierce in demeanour, the Red-tailed Hawk is a majestic sight across North America. Its geographical range spans from Alaska and Canada, stretching across the United States to the tropics of Panama.

This raptor’s appearance is marked by its rich brown upper body and paler underside. The defining feature, however, is its striking red tail, which glows like an ember against the sky. Its broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail make it unmistakable in flight.

With keen eyes set in a sharp face, the Red-tailed Hawk exudes a sense of power and grace.

A Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks in Missouri are known for their preference for high nesting sites such as tall trees or cliffs. They use sticks and branches to construct substantial nests, exhibiting a pattern of returning to and reinforcing the same nest over multiple years.

These nests, often positioned in commanding locations, provide a safe haven for their young and are integral to their lifecycle.

In Missouri, the diet of Red-tailed Hawks primarily consists of small mammals, including mice and rabbits. These birds play a crucial role in the ecosystem as natural predators, helping to keep rodent populations in check.

Their hunting skills, involving soaring high and diving to snatch prey with their talons, are a testament to their role as proficient hunters in Missouri’s diverse habitats.

The Red-tailed Hawk in Missouri has seen a significant recovery due to conservation efforts. Historically threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, their population has stabilized and even grown, thanks to legal protections and increased public awareness.

These efforts have ensured that the Red-tailed Hawk remains a common and majestic sight in Missouri’s skies.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
  • Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

A shadow in the suburban skies, Cooper’s Hawk thrives across North America, from southern Canada to Mexico. This medium-sized hawk exhibits a blue-gray back with a warm, reddish-barred chest and underparts. Its head is large in proportion to its body, and its eyes are deep red, giving it a fierce appearance.

The Cooper’s Hawk has long legs and a long tail, which is often seen in a rounded shape during flight. This bird blends seamlessly into the suburban landscape, its sleek form a whisper of wilderness in urban areas.

A Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks in Missouri build their nests in trees within dense woodlands or along forest edges. They carefully construct their nests, often hidden among the foliage, to protect their young from predators and environmental elements.

Cooper’s Hawks in Missouri are known for their diet consisting mainly of birds and small mammals. Their presence in both urban and suburban areas showcases their adaptability in hunting within varied environments. They demonstrate remarkable hunting skills, including swift, agile flights that enable them to navigate complex landscapes effectively.

The conservation history of Cooper’s Hawks in Missouri is marked by a significant rebound in their population. Initially impacted by pesticide use and hunting, their numbers have recovered, partly due to the adaptation of these birds to urban and suburban settings.

This recovery is a testament to their resilience and the effectiveness of conservation measures.

3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
  • Life span: 5 years
  • Size: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The agile hunter of the skies, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, is the smallest hawk in North America. It’s found in a wide range, from Alaska and Canada, down through the United States to the mountains of western South America.

This bird’s appearance is marked by its blue-gray back and starkly white underparts, crisscrossed with thin, dark bars. Its long, narrow tail and short, rounded wings are designed for sudden bursts of speed and agile maneuvers through dense forests.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s intense gaze and streamlined body make it a formidable presence in its woodland home.

This Sharp-Shinned Hawk sitting on a stick

Sharp-shinned Hawks in Missouri favor dense forest areas for their nesting sites. They construct their nests in secluded locations, using materials like sticks and bark, to ensure the safety of their young from predators.

The diet of the Sharp-shinned Hawk in Missouri is predominantly other smaller birds, showcasing their agility and speed as forest hunters. This diet highlights the hawk’s role in the avian food chain and its contribution to the ecological balance within their habitat. Their hunting style, often involving quick and sudden strikes, is a key aspect of their predatory behavior.

Conservation efforts for the Sharp-shinned Hawk in Missouri focus on the preservation of their woodland habitats. These birds have faced challenges from habitat loss and environmental changes, but maintaining healthy forest ecosystems has been crucial in supporting their survival.

These efforts are indicative of the importance of forest conservation for the wellbeing of various bird species.

4. Broad-Winged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The traveller of the skies, the Broad-winged Hawk is known for its incredible migratory journeys. This bird breeds in forests across eastern North America and migrates in large groups to South America for winter.

The hawk’s plumage is a mix of browns and whites, with a distinctly barred tail and underwing. Its compact, stocky body is built for endurance, and its short, broad wings are perfect for soaring long distances.

The Broad-winged Hawk’s face is stern, with eyes that reflect a keen intelligence, embodying the spirit of a long-distance voyager.

A Broad-Winged Hawk in flight

Broad-winged Hawks in Missouri favor dense woodlands for their nesting sites. They build their nests in tall trees, using sticks and softer materials to create a comfortable and secure environment for their young. These hawks demonstrate a strong fidelity to their nesting sites, often returning to the same area year after year to raise their offspring.

The diet of Broad-winged Hawks in Missouri primarily consists of small mammals, insects, and amphibians. They often hunt by perching in a concealed location and then swooping down on unsuspecting prey.

This method of hunting demonstrates their patience and precision as predators, crucial for maintaining ecological balance in their habitats.

Conservation efforts for Broad-winged Hawks in Missouri have centered on preserving their natural habitats, particularly woodlands and forests. These efforts include protecting areas from deforestation and environmental degradation.

The focus on habitat preservation is vital for the survival and health of Broad-winged Hawk populations in the state.

5. Rough-Legged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 18-20 in (46-51 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-3.25 lbs (680-1470g)
  • Wingspan: 52-54 inches (132-137 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

The Arctic wanderer, the Rough-legged Hawk, breeds in the Arctic tundra and migrates to open fields and marshes of the northern United States and Canada in winter.

This large hawk has a distinctive pattern with varying shades of brown and white, and its feathered legs, which give it its name, are adapted to the cold. Its broad wings and buoyant flight are well-suited for soaring over open landscapes.

The Rough-legged Hawk’s face is sharp and focused, reflecting its expertise as a hunter in some of the harshest environments.

A Rough-Legged Hawk sitting on a fence post

Rough-legged Hawks, winter visitors to Missouri, typically nest in the Arctic tundra. While in Missouri, they roost in high places, adapting to the local environment during their stay. Their presence in Missouri during winter months adds a unique aspect to the state’s bird diversity.

The Rough-legged Hawk’s diet in Missouri mainly consists of small mammals, particularly rodents. Their hunting technique includes hovering in the air before diving to catch prey, a strategy well-suited for open, flat landscapes. This hunting behavior is vital for controlling rodent populations in their winter habitats.

Conservation efforts for Rough-legged Hawks in Missouri are focused on ensuring suitable wintering habitats. Protecting these habitats is crucial for the survival of these migratory birds during their stay in the state.

Conservation strategies include habitat management and monitoring to support their wintering needs.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 18-22 inches (46-56 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4-2.4 pounds (650-1,100 g)
  • Wingspan: 47-59 inches (119-150 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

A soaring traveller of the Americas, Swainson’s Hawk undertakes one of the longest migrations of any North American raptor. It breeds in the grasslands and prairies of North America and winters in South America.

This bird is notable for its two distinct color morphs: light and dark. The light morph has a brown upper body, white underparts, and a distinctive bib. The dark morph is almost uniformly dark brown.

Swainson’s Hawk has long, pointed wings and a short tail, making it an adept long-distance flier. Its serene expression and graceful silhouette make it a symbol of the open skies.

A close up photo of a Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks build their nests in isolated trees or on utility poles, adapting to the available environments. These nests are constructed using sticks and are lined with softer materials for comfort. The location of their nests reflects their adaptability to various environments and their need for secure breeding sites.

Swainson’s Hawks in Missouri primarily feed on insects and small mammals. During migration, they are often seen hunting in groups, demonstrating social behavior and coordination. Their diet is an important aspect of insect control in agricultural areas, highlighting their role in the ecosystem.

The conservation of Swainson’s Hawks in Missouri is closely tied to their migratory patterns. Protecting their breeding and feeding grounds in the state is crucial for their survival.

Conservation efforts focus on habitat preservation and ensuring safe migratory routes, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation in bird conservation.

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Life span: Up to 12 years
  • Size: 18-20 inches (45-50 cm)
  • Weight: 12-26 ounces (350-740 g)
  • Wingspan: 40-48 inches (100-122 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

A forest dweller with a haunting call, the Red-shouldered Hawk primarily inhabits wooded regions of eastern North America, extending west to parts of California and south into Mexico.

This bird is smaller and more slender than its Red-tailed cousin, with a distinct checkered black-and-white wing pattern. Its shoulders, true to its name, are a rich russet red, creating a beautiful contrast against the lush greens of its habitat. The face of this hawk is fiercely expressive, with piercing eyes and a sharply hooked beak, embodying the essence of a woodland predator.

red-shouldered hawk

In the woodlands of Missouri, Red-shouldered Hawks exhibit a strong affinity for tall trees when choosing nesting sites. They often refurbish and reuse old nests, adding new materials each year. This behavior underscores their connection to specific locales and their adaptability in reusing existing resources. The nests, well-hidden among the foliage, provide safety and security for their offspring.

The diet of the Red-shouldered Hawk in Missouri includes small mammals, amphibians, and occasionally birds. These raptors are skilled at manoeuvring through densely wooded areas to catch their prey, exhibiting an impressive combination of patience and agility. Their predatory habits play an essential role in the balance of local ecosystems, controlling populations of small animals.

Conservation of the Red-shouldered Hawk in Missouri has seen progress through habitat preservation and legal protection. Although habitat destruction posed significant threats in the past, current conservation efforts have helped stabilize their populations.

These efforts highlight the importance of maintaining and protecting natural habitats for the survival of this species.

8. Northern Goshawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 24-29 in (61-74 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-3 lbs (680-1360g)
  • Wingspan: 45-52 in (114-132 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

A symbol of the wild northern forests, the Northern Goshawk is a large, powerful bird found across the Northern Hemisphere. Its range spans from North America to Europe and Asia. It has a striking appearance with slate-gray plumage, a black stripe over the eye, and a starkly contrasting white eyebrow.

The underparts are finely barred, adding to its distinguished look. The Northern Goshawk’s long tail and broad wings make it an agile flier, able to navigate through dense forests. Its fierce expression and strong build exemplify its status as a top predator in its habitat.

A Northern Goshawk standing on a log

Northern Goshawks in Missouri use large, mature trees for their nests. These birds build sizable nests that are often reused and expanded over several years. The choice of nesting location is significant, offering both protection for their young and proximity to hunting areas. Their nests are typically well-hidden in the forest canopy.

The diet of Northern Goshawks in Missouri includes a variety of prey, such as birds, mammals, and occasionally reptiles. These hawks are powerful hunters, using speed and strength to capture their prey.

Their predatory habits are essential for controlling populations of various species, playing a critical role in the ecosystem’s balance.

The conservation of Northern Goshawks in Missouri focuses on preserving their forest habitats, particularly mature and old-growth forests. Challenges include habitat fragmentation and environmental changes, but efforts to maintain large tracts of forest are crucial for supporting their populations.

Conservation strategies emphasize the importance of protecting and managing these forested areas.

9. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: 5 – 7 years
  • Size: 18-24 in / 45-61 cm
  • Weight: 12.3-26.5 oz / 350-750 g
  • Wingspan: 40-48 in / 100-122 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The ghost of the marshlands, the Northern Harrier, is known for its distinctive hunting style, flying low over grasslands and marshes across North America, Europe, and Asia. This hawk has a unique, owl-like face that aids in its exceptional hearing.

Its plumage is a blend of gray, brown, and white, with males being lighter than females. The long, slender wings and tail of the Northern Harrier are ideal for its acrobatic flight, and its intense, yellow-eyed gaze gives it an almost otherworldly appearance as it glides silently over its terrain.

A Northern Harrier looking for prey in a field

Northern Harriers build their nests in dense vegetation in open fields and marshlands, offering protection for their eggs and young. The choice of nesting location reflects their need for open space for hunting and a secure area for raising their young.

In Missouri, Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals and birds. They are known for their low, gliding flight over fields and wetlands, hunting with stealth and efficiency. Their diet is crucial for controlling rodent populations and maintaining the health of grassland and wetland ecosystems.

Conservation of Northern Harriers in Missouri has been challenging due to habitat loss, particularly in grasslands and wetlands. Efforts to restore and protect these habitats are vital for their survival. Conservation initiatives focus on habitat management and preservation to support the Northern Harrier population.

Where to find Hawks in Missouri

Finding hawks in Missouri can be a rewarding experience for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. These majestic birds of prey can be spotted throughout the state, especially during their seasonal migrations and breeding periods.

Here are some tips on where to find hawks in Missouri and how to do it:

  • Ha Ha Tonka State Park: Located in the Ozarks, this park is a prime spot for spotting hawks. Hike along its scenic trails and keep an eye on the skies, especially during the fall migration when you might see Red-tailed Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks.
  • Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge: Situated in northwest Missouri, this refuge is a critical stopover for migratory birds, including hawks. Visit in the winter to witness Bald Eagles and Northern Harriers in action.
  • River bluffs: Hawk migration often follows river valleys. Find a vantage point along the Missouri or Mississippi River bluffs, and use binoculars or a spotting scope to scan the skies. You may see Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and even the occasional Peregrine Falcon.
  • Mark Twain National Forest: Explore the wooded areas of this vast forest, particularly during the breeding season. Look for Broad-winged Hawks, which prefer dense woodlands.

To spot hawks successfully, it’s essential to be patient and have the right equipment, such as binoculars or a birding scope. Keep a field guide handy to help with identification. Early mornings and late afternoons are typically the best times for hawk watching.

Respect their habitats and follow ethical birdwatching practices to ensure minimal disturbance to these beautiful raptors.


Missouri offers a diverse and captivating landscape for hawk enthusiasts. From the rugged Ozarks to the river valleys and expansive national forests, the state provides a rich tapestry for observing these magnificent birds of prey.

Whether you seek the thrill of migratory sightings or the grace of breeding hawks, Missouri’s varied habitats promise remarkable encounters. By practicing responsible birdwatching and preserving their habitats, we can ensure that future generations continue to marvel at the majestic hawks that grace the skies of the Show-Me State.

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