Discover the 9 Types of Hawks in Missouri

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: May 26, 2022
© Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock.com
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Missouri is home to various life forms. Large amounts of freshwater like the Mississippi and Missouri rivers ensure the booming presence of life in the region. So, it is no surprise that there will be hawks, which are common in Missouri.

Hawks are elegant birds of prey from the family Accipitridae. There are different species of hawk, and they exhibit different behaviors, have preferred habitats, choose diets, and come in different shapes and sizes.

Hawks are generally strong birds. They are known for their speed of flight as well as their great vision. All these traits culminate in them being fantastic hunters. Body parts like sharp, curved nails and beaks are crucial to feeding and survival. They thrive in coastal regions, mountains, grasslands, savannas, forests, prairies, and marshes.

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We will look at different hawks common to Missouri, their unique details, how to identify them, and where to find them if you look.

Here are nine species of hawk that you should expect to see in Missouri.

1. Northern Goshawk

Goshawk
Adult goshawks are dark slate gray with pale gray underparts.

©Jesus Giraldo Gutierrez/Shutterstock.com

Northern Goshawk
Scientific nameAccipiter gentilis
Weight1.4-4.8 lbs (635-2177 g)
Height18-27 in (46-69 cm)
Wingspan40-46 in (103-117 cm)

Northern goshawks are large birds of prey, similar to red-tailed hawks. Adult goshawks are dark slate gray with pale gray underparts. They are called goshawks as a reference or combination of “goose hawks.”

They are scarce to find around here as more non-breeding populations in Missouri exist. If you want to see them, you must walk into a mature forest. They live on trees, protect their young, and are opportunistic feeders. 

Their diet consists majorly of small birds, mammals, carrion, and insects. Northern goshawks breed yearly, usually between early April and mid-June. Their eggs are bluish-white with a 28-38 day incubation period.

2. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s hawks have light-colored bellies but are usually darker in their chest areas, with colors that range from reddish-brown to gray.

©Lowell Monke/Shutterstock.com

Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific nameButeo swainsoni
Weight1.1–3.7 lbs (499-1678 g)
Height17-22 in (43-56 cm)
Wingspan46-54 in (117–137 cm)

Swainson’s hawks were named after a British naturalist. They have a breeding range in the northwestern region of Missouri and are frequently seen during the summer and warmer months. 

Swainson hawks have light-colored bellies but are usually darker in their chest areas, with colors that range from reddish-brown to gray. Most males have gray heads, and females mostly have brown heads. They make their appearances more frequently in April and September.

Their diet consists of rodents, reptiles, and rabbits. So when you see them perched on a tree, fence post, or telephone pole, you know they are scanning for their meal. Also, they enjoy migrating from time to time.

For reproduction, their females lay between 2 and 3 pale bluish-white eggs that take about 34-35 days to hatch.

3. Red-tailed Hawk

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks feed on moles, ground squirrels, rabbits, small raccoons, mice, and voles.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Red-tailed Hawk 
Scientific nameButeo jamaicensis
Weight1.5-3.5 lbs (680-1586 g)
Height18-26 in (45-65 cm)
Wingspan43-56 in (110-141 cm)

Red-tailed hawks are ubiquitous in North America. They fly in circles in open fields and are easy to spot if you are keen enough. Like their fellow hawks, they sit on poles and trees to watch for rabbits and other prey.

Red-tailed hawks have a brown back and are pale underneath with a streaked belly. Their wings are large and rounded like those of a goose. They have a very distinctive short and wide red tail. 

These hawks have a specialized diet – they prefer mammals. They feed on moles, ground squirrels, rabbits, small raccoons, mice, and voles. Red-tailed hawks are the primary prey for great horned owls and bobcats. They are not known for hunting domestic pets; you should not expect to see them lurking in your yard.

Red-tailed hawks build their nests on top of the tallest buildings, cliff ledges, and tallest trees. Females lay between 2-3 whitish, brown-spotted eggs. Their numbers increase during winter when birds from the far north join the birds that live in your area year-round.

4. Red-shouldered Hawk

red shouldered hawk vs cooper's hawk
Red-shouldered hawks are common in suburban areas, wooden swamps, and deciduous forests.

©MTKhaled mahmud/Shutterstock.com

Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific nameButeo lineatus
Weight1-1.7 lbs (486-774 g)
Height15-24 in (38-61 cm)
Wingspan35-50 in (90-127 cm)

Red-shouldered hawks are common in suburban areas, wooden swamps, and deciduous forests. They derive their name from their red-colored wings, while the rest of their bodies have beautiful white and black feathers.

Red-shouldered hawks have more freedom in their diets than most hawks. They prey on reptiles, rodents, rabbits, crayfish, amphibians, and other small mammals. However, they are threatened by humans, snakes, peregrine falcons, martens, and fishers.

These hawks inhabit wet areas and are known for flying close to the ground. They make their nests in tree crotches. They are monogamous, and they start breeding once they are two years old. Their females lay 2-5 white or bluish eggs. Their incubation period is about 33 days.

5. Northern Harrier

are owls raptors?
Northern harriers live in marshes, prairies, and open fields.

©Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com

Northern Harrier 
Scientific nameCircus hudsonius
Weight11-27 oz (300-750 g)
Height21-25 in (53-64 cm)
Wingspan41-46 in (103-117 cm)

Northern harriers are slender, medium-sized birds of prey with rounded tails and broad wings. They have striking owl-like faces. You can easily spot them gliding low over grasslands or marshes.

Northern harriers feed on small birds and small mammals. They can also carry bigger prey like ducks and rabbits, and they complete the job of subduing the larger targets by drowning them. As they migrate, their diets may be affected by changes in seasons and locations. They fly back and forth over the ground while watching and listening for small animals to prey on. Like owls, they rely heavily on their hearing to hunt down prey.

Northern harriers live in marshes, prairies, and open fields. They conceal their nests on the ground and nest in colonies. Females lay 2-4 eggs, which hatch in 30-32 days.

6. Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk on a white background
Cooper’s hawks only stick to one mate per season.

©Richard G Smith/Shutterstock.com

Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific nameAccipiter Cooperii
Weight7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
Height14-20 in (35-50 cm)
Wingspan24-39 in (62-99 cm)

Cooper’s hawks are birds of prey that are small-medium-sized. They are the size of crows but have the appearance of sharp-shinned hawks. They have wide-rounded wings and large shoulders. 

These hawks mainly eat woodpeckers, quails, plump fowl, chickens, and smaller mammals. They are watchful birds and spend many hours in woodland canopies waiting for prey. Their camouflaged feathers enable them to disappear among the tree branches. 

Generally, Cooper’s hawks’ predators only comprise eagles and other larger prey birds. Pesticides, which have killed thousands of hawks and other predatory animals, are their major threat.

Cooper’s hawks only stick to one mate per season. Like most hawks, they are solitary. They nest on flat ground in deep forests, not on hillsides. Females lay 2-6 blue or bluish-white eggs and are in charge of incubation. Incubation takes about 30-36 days.

7. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged hawks are medium to large with broad but thin wings.

©Eivor Kuchta/Shutterstock.com

Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific nameButeo lagopus
Weight1.32-3.66 lbs (599-1660 g)
Height18-24 in (46-60 cm)
Wingspan52-54 in (132-138 cm)

Rough-legged hawks are medium to large with broad but thin wings. Their flight pattern is unique as they fly facing the sky. The rough-legged hawk has feathered legs; it shares this feature with the ferruginous hawk. Your best chance to find a rough-legged hawk in Missouri is during the winter.

Their diet consists of rodents, including lemmings and voles, and they occasionally feed on birds and amphibians. These hawks inhabit the arctic tundra during the summertime to hunt prey and raise their young. Females lay 3-5 pale bluish-white eggs incubated for about 31 days.

8. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged hawks’ diet consists of snakes, lizards, young turtles, frogs, and other small mammals.

©pr2is/Shutterstock.com

Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific nameButeo platypterus
Weight9.3-19.8 oz (264-561 g)
Height13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
Wingspan31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)

Broad-winged hawks are small hawks with broad wings. They look like red-shouldered hawks but with brown coloration. Broad-winged hawks are medium-sized birds of prey with compact, stocky bodies like those of geese and crows. Their diet consists of snakes, lizards, young turtles, frogs, and other small mammals.

Adult broad-winged hawks can sometimes prey on other hawks, eagles, and great horned owls. Their other biggest threats include collisions with vehicles, poisoning, hunting, and habitat destruction.

Their females lay between 1-4 whitish eggs with brown spots. The incubation period lasts for about 28-31 days. Both sexes take care of their young until they can fly and hunt for themselves.

9. Sharp-shinned Hawk

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned hawks are small, long-tailed hawks with rounded wings and square-tipped tails.

©Wyatt W/Shutterstock.com

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific nameAccipiter striatus
Weight2.9-7.7 oz (82-219 g)
Height9.1-15 in (23-37 cm)
Wingspan17-27 in (42-68 cm)

Sharp-shinned hawks are small, long-tailed hawks with rounded wings and square-tipped tails. They often weigh less than a pound. Their heads are tiny and hardly visible when they are up in the sky. Female sharp-shinned hawks are bigger than males. They get their name from the nature of their sharply keeled, featherless legs.

Sharp-shinned hawks fly through dense forests to surprise prey with a flight speed of 60mph. Their flap-and-glide flight style is unique and outstanding. They feed primarily on small birds like songbirds and quails. They also feed on large insects, snakes, frogs, squirrels, and rodents.

Sharp-shinned hawks inhabit the deepest ends of the forests and can only be sighted high in the sky or in open habitats during migration. They build their nests in conifer trees, usually on top of the tallest trees with dense cover. Females lay between 4 and 5 eggs, which take about 30–32 days to hatch. 


The Featured Image

Goshawk
Goshawk
© Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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