Hawks in Missouri (9 Species Pictured) - Daily Birder (2022)

It’s amazing to see a hawk perched on a fence post or a telephone pole seemingly just hanging out. Sometimes they’ll circle over your head. Sometimes it seems like these hawks are everywhere as you drive down the road. The truth is that hawks aren’t there just to hang out. They’re always looking for food. In this article, we’re zooming in on the hawks in Missouri. By the time you’re done reading, you should be able to identify most any hawk you can see in the greater southern United States.

The open road is their best friend as they search the fields for their prey. The bonus is that you get to see these majestic creatures. The bad news is that you might not see many in your backyard unless they’re hunting your bird friends. Most of the time, you’ll spot a “red-tail” because they’re the most common hawk in Missouri. Other times, you’ll get a glimpse of one of the other extraordinary species of hawks. We’ve got some of the top species of hawks in Missouri.

Hawks in Missouri (9 Species Pictured) - Daily Birder (1)

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest hawks you’ll see soaring through the daytime skies. It ranges from about nine to 13 inches long and only weighs up to about seven ounces. Its wingspan still ranges to above 20 inches. These beautiful birds have a variety of different colors of brown feathers. They have pale brown feathers along their bellies with dark brown wings.

These graceful fliers can be found everywhere in North America. In Missouri, they have a non-breeding population. Sometimes during the winter, they will fly on up to Canada or Alaska to breed. You can still some hanging out in the winter in Missouri.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk loves to hang out by your backyard feeders. They want to eat your food and take down those birds trying to get it. If they’re bothering your birds, you can take down the feeders for a few weeks until the hawk decides to leave it alone.

You won’t find this type of hawk nesting in the lower tree areas. They only nest in the dense parts of the forest. They aren’t as active during their breeding seasons to help reduce the risk of becoming prey. Sharp-shinned Hawks will often next together in the deep forest cover. They usually produce from three to eight eggs each time.

Sharp-shinned Hawks like to dine on the smaller species of songbirds. They are pursuit hunters, not opportunity hunters eating anything in their path.

Most of the time you will spot this type of hawk in the western half of the state.

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Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks look a lot like a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. With a length of up to 17 inches and weighing up to 24 ounces, they are a little bigger. They have a large wingspan up to 35 inches. A Cooper’s hawk has a much larger head than its body. Their bellies are covered in red feathers with gray along their wings and backs.

Cooper’s Hawks like to stalk your bird feeders. They almost feed exclusively on birds. They live in wooded areas and forests. They’ll nest in backyards and suburban wooded areas if they think they can find more food in these areas.

You might get lucky and see one of these hawks in a park. The male and female will build a nest together. This only happens after the male performs a bow display for the female hawk.

You’ll usually see these in all regions of Missouri, mostly during their breeding seasons. They’re most common in the central regions.

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Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks are one of the only types of hawks that have feathered legs and toes. Some are light while others are dark. Males and females look very different. Light morphs are lighter overall with a big of a mottled look. Dark morphs are brown with two tones of light and dark under their tails and wings.

Rough-legged Hawks are about 18 to 20 inches long and weigh from 25 to 49 ounces. They have an impressive wingspan up to 54 inches.

These birds are usually best seen in winter. They are in Missouri during the non-breeding times. They’ll migrate up to Alaska or northern Canada each year to breed.

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Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier has an interesting name compared to other hawks, and perhaps was aptly named because of its aggressive nature. It has brown patches of feather along its pale body. The wings of this hawk have pale grey feathers. With a length of up to 19 inches and a weight of about 26 ounces, this hawk is a good size. The Northern Harrier has a wingspan that ranges from about 20 to 46 inches.

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This is the only harrier variety of hawks that is indigenous to North America. They usually spend winters in warmer climates, and they have breeding grounds that go all the way to Canada. Northern Harriers enjoy living in marshes and fields.

These hunters rely on their vision and hearing to hunt. They’re the species of hawk that is most like an owl. They’ll even drown their prey if needed. Male Northern Harriers will sometimes balance five females at once. It’s more common to have one or two, but these hawks know how to lure the ladies.

Male and female Northern Harriers are very territorial over their nests. The male will often chase another male away. Females defend the nest from other females.

You can spot these hawks throughout the year in Missouri, mainly in the south west area.

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Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in North America with about two million birds. They range in length from about 17 to 25 inches and weigh about 24 to 51 ounces. They have a large wingspan of 44 to 52 inches. These exquisite birds are broad with rounded wings and a wide tail. Living up to its name, they have a red tail.

Red-tailed Hawks won’t usually be found in your backyard unless you have a very large area of land where they can happily hunt for mammals. They have a stereotypical raspy scream. In fact, most movies and television shows depict any species of hawk as having a Red-tailed Hawk’s screech.

You can spot a Red-tailed Tailed Hawk throughout Missouri all parts of the year. You’ll see them often soaring above your head looking for food. Sometimes they’ll perch on telephone poles or high fences.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered hawk is an extravagant bird with checkered-patterned wings on its wings. These medium-sized hawks range up to 24 inches long and weigh up to 27 ounces. They have a wingspan from about 37 to 43 inches.

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You can see these hawks throughout the year in southeastern Missouri. They love to eat birds, amphibians, small mammals, and reptiles. Red-shouldered hawks won’t usually hang in your backyard. You’ll find them nesting in the same spot year after year in dense forests and heavily wooded areas. They love to make nests near swamps. Male red-shouldered hawks show off for a mate by doing a series of dives in a mating display. This is known as a special “sky dance.”

Red-shouldered hawks have seen a boost in population in the last few decades. Clearing of wooded areas has been a large threat to the species.

These hawks are highly territorial. They’re known to attack crows and owls that get on their space. They’ve even been known to attack a human that tries to get too close to a nest.

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Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks have paler feathers on their bellies and breast with darker brown and grey feather along their back and wings. They range from 18 to 22 inches long and weigh up to 48 ounces. Their wingspan is a stunning 48 inches.

Most hawks don’t enjoy the open grasslands like Swainson’s Hawks. They prefer the grasslands over the forests. They hunt their foot on foot, so this gives them the advantage to find small mammals in the grass. Breeding pairs of Swainson’s Hawks are monogamous. Both hawks are very aggressive if anyone gets on their territory. They’re known to pick a fight with another bird trying to step into their hunting ground.

These birds have a long migration period. It’s one of the longest of all the North American raptors. They migrate by the thousands from southern South America. their flocks are called “kettles.”

Since Swainson’s Hawk are migratory, you’ll only see these hawks in Missouri during their breeding seasons. They’re usually spotted in the western half of Missouri mostly in April and September. You’ll see them perched on fence posts, tree branches, and telephone poles. They’re constantly scanning for small mammals and other food.

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Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks are a larger species of hawk. They range from about 21 to 25 inches long and weigh up to 48 ounces. With a wingspan of up to 46 inches, these birds are fun to watch fly through the sky. The adult Northern Goshawk is dark gray on top with a light gray underbelly. They have a stripe over their eyes.

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Don’t expect to get to view many Northern Goshawks. They are pretty scarce and don’t breed in Missouri. It’s tough to find them as they like to live in big forests with large trees. They are known to be very protective of their nests. They’ll even attack you if you come too close to their young. But if you do happen to see one throw it into your birding journal because you more than likely just spotted a lifer!

Northern Goshawks are known as opportunistic eaters. They’ll eat a wide array of food. They love mammals, carrion, insects, and other birds.

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Broad-winged Hawk

The broad-winged hawk lives up to its name for its large, circular-shaped wings. With a wingspan ranging from about 30 to 39 inches, they’re an exciting bird to see. Broad-winged Hawks have brown wings and heads with a pale-colored belly.

These hawks like to make a home close to the water. They usually hang out in forest areas with nearby water areas. You won’t usually see them in urban areas.

The Broad-winged Hawk migrates each year with thousands of others, called “kettles.” They only have one brood every year with up to five eggs. The female works to construct the next while the male helps a bit. They both protect the nest and always build the nests with almost a mile of separation between themselves and other birds.

Not all of these hawks stay with the same bird for years. Sometimes they will mate with different hawks, and other times they will stay with the same mate forever. Broad-winged Hawks don’t interact with each other if it’s not breeding season.

This type of hawk is one of the most popular hawks in Missouri. You can see it during their breeding seasons throughout the entire state.

You can spot these hawks throughout the year in Missouri, mainly in the south west area.


Missouri is a wonderful place to spot different types of hawks. Hawks in Missouri enjoy the nice weather and are often easy to spot on the open road. Next time one is gliding over your head, you’ll be able to identify it a little better. Just watch out if they’re hanging out by your feeders trying to steal the birds for their dinner.



  • You shouldn’t go anywhere in your birding adventures without a proper birding journal. Check out our reviews of our favorite birding journals, some of which are leather-bound and/or come with additional bird identification resources.
  • Hawks are very vocal birds. Especially when trying to mark their territory to other nearby aerial predators. Learn how you can better your ear and identify hawks without seeing them in How To Identify Birds By Their Sounds.


Hawks in Missouri (9 Species Pictured) - Daily Birder? ›

Hawks in Missouri (9 Species Pictured)
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest hawks you'll see soaring through the daytime skies. ...
  • Cooper's Hawk. ...
  • Rough-legged Hawk. ...
  • Northern Harrier. ...
  • Red-tailed Hawk. ...
  • Red-shouldered Hawk. ...
  • Swainson's Hawk. ...
  • Northern Goshawk.

What kinds of hawks are in Missouri? ›

Common hawks in Missouri include Red-Tailed Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Broad-Winged Hawk, Rough-Legged Hawk, Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk), Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and Northern Goshawk (Tekiela 2001).

What is the most common hawk in Missouri? ›

The Broad-winged hawk is one of the most abundant hawk species in the state of Missouri. They are most commonly in the state during their breeding seasons and can be seen in all regions of the state. Most of the sighting of this hawk have been recorded in the southern half of the state.

What is the biggest hawk in Missouri? ›

Ferruginous hawks are the largest North American raptors in the genus Buteo. According to the American Bird Conservancy, these hawks rely on open grasslands and original prairies, where they hunt for small mammal prey.

Are red-shouldered hawks in Missouri? ›

As a permanent resident in Missouri, the red-shouldered hawk is uncommon in southern Missouri and rare in the north. Red-shouldered hawks often reuse a nest for several years.

What is the smallest hawk in Missouri? ›

Sharp-shinned Hawk. Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawks in Missouri, and they are incredibly athletic and acrobatic. It's common to see these raptors zipping through the woods or by your bird feeders in a blur of motion!

Are there golden eagles in Mo? ›

Eagles are the largest raptors in Missouri. Both the bald eagle and the golden eagle can be observed in Missouri. Bald eagles are much more common than golden eagles.

Is it illegal to shoot hawks in Missouri? ›

Answer: All species of hawks, falcons, eagles (birds of prey) are protected non-game by state and federal laws. It is not legal to shoot them. There are mitigating efforts you should take to protect you chicks by keeping them confined or in an outdoor arena that is covered.

Are there Osprey in Missouri? ›

In Missouri, osprey apparently were never plentiful and had stopped breeding here well before the DDT era. Yet pesticides and other chemical toxins also took a toll. Osprey habitat (today, reservoirs) might now be more prevalent in Missouri than it was in the past, and reintroduction efforts are paying off.

What is the largest bird in Missouri? ›

While the number of year-round resident birds in Missouri continues to increase, most wintering bald eagles here return to their breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada in spring. Bald eagle nests, up to 7 feet across and 10 feet deep, are the largest in the bird world.

Are there kestrels in Missouri? ›

American Kestrels are one of the most widespread and numerous birds of prey on the continent, and common to see in Missouri. One of their favorite strategies to catch prey is to hover in the breeze from a relatively low height, looking for insects, invertebrates, small rodents, and birds.

Are there falcons in Missouri? ›

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Peregrine Falcons can be found everywhere in Missouri, and are actually located on every continent except Antarctica.

How do you tell the difference between a red-tailed hawk and a red shouldered hawk? ›

Red-tailed Hawks are larger than Red-shouldered Hawks, with broader wings and slower wingbeats. Adult Red-tails usually show a reddish top of the tail, and a dark “belly band” unlike the rusty-bellied Red-shouldered.

What is the difference between a Cooper's hawk and a red shouldered hawk? ›

A red shouldered hawk has unique and intricate black and white striped feathers on their wings and tails, while Cooper's hawks do not have this. While both of these birds of prey have long tail feathers, the wingspan of the Cooper's hawk is rounded, while the wingspan of the red shouldered hawk is square.

What does it mean when you see a red shouldered hawk? ›

The Cherokee belief that Red Tailed and Red Shoulder Hawks are messengers of vision. When you see one of these beautiful birds, what ever it was you were thinking about at the time, is happening around you or it's going to come true and manifest in your life.

Is there a chicken hawk? ›

In the United States, chickenhawk or chicken hawk is an unofficial designation for three species of North American hawks in the family Accipitridae: Cooper's hawk, also called a quail hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk, and the Buteo species red-tailed hawk.

Are there red tail hawks in Missouri? ›

The red-tailed hawk is a common permanent resident in Missouri. A key to identifying adult red-tailed hawks in flight is the rufous tail. Red-tailed hawks are large, commonly seen raptors in Missouri. Many American commuters enjoy seeing these “highway hawks” on their roadside perches.

Do sharp shinned hawks eat squirrels? ›

Feeds mostly on birds of about sparrow size up to robin size, sometimes up to the size of quail. Also eats small numbers of rodents, bats, squirrels, lizards, frogs, snakes, large insects.

Can you shoot turkey vultures in Missouri? ›

Defending against them is even more difficult because the vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Farmers and ranchers can shoot them, but only with a permit. Proof of damage is required to get the permit.

Are turkey vultures in Missouri? ›

Two species of vultures live in Missouri. The Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), identifiable by its naked red head (adults), is slightly larger and typically avoids areas where Black vultures are present. Turkey vultures find carrion by riding wind currents and searching for smells to investigate for food.

Are there egrets in Missouri? ›

Great egrets are mostly present in Missouri late March through mid-November, with numbers peaking the first half of May and from mid-July through mid-October. Many heron species in Missouri crowd into colonies in the spring to build their nests and raise their young.

Can I shoot a hawk that is attacking my chickens? ›

First, you need to know that hawks are protected in the United States under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 USC, 703-711). It is illegal to harm them, or to hunt, trap, cage, shoot, or poison them without a permit. Doing so is punishable as a misdemeanor and with fines of up to $15,000.

Can I shoot a hawk attacking my dog? ›

Federal laws actually protect birds of prey, so it's illegal to kill or keep them without a permit. If you're worried about protecting your pets, the easiest thing to do is keep an eye on them outside.

What do you do if a hawk attacks you? ›

Hawk attacks on humans are rare, but they do happen from time to time. If you're attacked by a hawk, don't turn and run; instead, face the hawk, make loud noises, and wave your arms in an attempt to scare it off.

How many species of hawks are in Missouri? ›

When it comes to hawks in Missouri, there are 9 different species that you may encounter. Those species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier and the Swainson's Hawk.

What's the difference between a falcon and a hawk? ›

Hawks have greyish and brownish feathers with a pale, striped underside, while falcons are bluish-grey. Also, falcon females have black-barred wings. There are some other differences based on the species.

What type of eagles are in Missouri? ›

Bald Eagles are found across Missouri!

Are there tarantulas in Missouri? ›

This stocky, hairy species is Missouri's largest spider. There are more than 50 species of tarantulas in North America, but the Missouri tarantual is apparently the only one native to Missouri. Despite what you might see in horror movies, tarantulas don't spin webs to catch their prey.

Are there flamingos in Missouri? ›

Missouri has ducks, geese, and waterfowl as well as pheasants, grouse, and allies. It also has flamingos and grebes. New World quail, pigeons and doves, and nightjars and allies are also prevalent in the state.

What is the most common bird in Missouri? ›

The most common bird in Missouri: the most frequently seen bird in the state is Northern Cardinal. It is reported on 63% of bird watching lists. The official State Bird of Missouri is Eastern Bluebird.

What bird is black with a blue head? ›

Common Grackle Photos and Videos

Large, lanky blackbirds with long legs, a long tail, and a long and heavy bill. Adult males appear dark overall, but have an iridescent bluish head and bronzy body in good light.

What is a flock of black birds called? ›

A wintertime flock may include redwing blackbirds, grackles, starlings, cowbirds, and sometimes, even robins.

Why are there hundreds of blackbirds in my yard? ›

The blackbirds congregate for food and protection. While some birds migrate alone, blackbirds find strength in numbers. They cooperate to find food — whether in a field, backyard or parking lot — and keep an eye out for predators.

Are there Roadrunners in Missouri? ›

Roadrunners are a fairly recent arrival to Missouri (the first documented sighting was in 1956) and are predominantly found in the rugged, rocky glades and open woodlands of the Ozarks. They are most common in our southwestern counties, although they have been seen as far north as Jefferson City.

What birds hover over fields? ›

Male skylarks can be spotted rising almost vertically from farmland, grassland, saltmarshes and moorland. They hover effortlessly, singing from a great height, before parachuting back down to earth.

Are there any Ravens in Missouri? ›

American crow adults are entirely black with a long, heavy bill. In bright sunlight there may be a purplish sheen on the highlights of the plumage. The tail is rounded at the tip, not wedge-shaped as in the common raven, a former breeding species that no longer even occurs in Missouri.

What is the largest bird in Missouri? ›

While the number of year-round resident birds in Missouri continues to increase, most wintering bald eagles here return to their breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada in spring. Bald eagle nests, up to 7 feet across and 10 feet deep, are the largest in the bird world.

What is the difference between a red shouldered hawk and a red-tailed hawk? ›

Red-tailed Hawks are larger than Red-shouldered Hawks, with broader wings and slower wingbeats. Adult Red-tails usually show a reddish top of the tail, and a dark “belly band” unlike the rusty-bellied Red-shouldered.

Are there falcons in Missouri? ›

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Peregrine Falcons can be found everywhere in Missouri, and are actually located on every continent except Antarctica.

Is hawk and Falcon the same? ›

Falcons are smaller birds than hawks which are generally large but with shorter wings compared to falcons. Summary: 1. Falcons belong to the same genus while hawks fall into several genera.


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