The 9 Hawks in Missouri: Guide to ID Each Species (& Location)

female Northern Harrier

Last Updated: April 30, 2022

When you visit a park, go on a hike, or even drive along forestry, there's a chance that you'll encounter hawks. In Missouri, the variety of state and national parks make for an ideal habitat for these Missouri raptors - one example is the Forest Park located in St Louis.

When you go to these parks, it may be difficult to differentiate hawks because some of them look similar to each other and even to other raptors.

So...

We compiled pictures of Missouri Hawks and added details on when and where they're typically found so you can identify the nine species in the state.

The 9 Hawks In Missouri With Pictures For Identification

1. Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Broad Winged Hawk looking back

As the name suggests, this bird has broad wings relative to its size. Its upperparts are a mottled brown color, while its underparts are a brown-barred white.

On the other hand, its underwings and tail are white with black margins and bands.

Although it is a pretty common species, this Missouri hawk isn't easy to find because it typically resides deep in dense deciduous or mixed woodlands.

Broad Winged Hawks are known for being migratory birds, wherein they travel for about 4000 miles in large groups of thousands!

However, the best time to find them is during the summer breeding season, as they can be found throughout the whole state, although most sightings occur in the southern half of Missouri.


2. Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Coopers Hawk with a damaged beak

This species has dark blue-gray upperparts, while its underparts are white with a rufous bar pattern.

Meanwhile, its wings below are white with many blue-gray margins, and its tail is white with thick black bands.

As their range covers almost the entirety of North America, Coopers Hawks can be found all year round in Missouri. Most sightings occur in the central parts of the state.

This bird prefers dense woodlands and forested mountains to nest. But if you're lucky, you can find it in suburban woods and parks, where it may even stalk bird feeders.

3. Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Northern Goshawk in mid flight

The Goshawk has gray (almost black) upperparts while its underparts have a black and white zebra-like pattern.

Underneath its wings is a dark gray feather color, while its tail is pale gray with three-four dark bands.

With its white eyebrows and red eyes, it's pretty easy to identify this Missouri hawk species. The only problem is that they are hard to find, as they stay away from humans by living in a dense forest that's either coniferous or deciduous.

Additionally, this raptor is a scarce and non-breeding bird in Missouri. The only chance to see a Goshawk is when individual birds migrate during the colder months for food.


4. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Northern Harrier on a wood

From above, this Missouri hawk has a gray head, tail, and upper wings, while its rump is white. Underneath, its feathers are entirely white, except for the gray-spotted breast and black-tipped underwings.

For the female bird, the gray parts are replaced with shades of brown.

What's unique about this hawk is that it's the only harrier species native in North America, living in open terrains such as fields, marshes, and savannas.

Although some harriers stay in Missouri throughout the year, most are only present outside their breeding season as they move far north to breed.

You can see this harrier in all regions of Missouri, although most sightings occur in the southwestern parts of the state.


5. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Red-Shouldered Hawk standing on a wood

This hawk's upperparts are brown, wherein its wings and tail include white margins.

However, the top end of the wings is red, hence the name "red shouldered." These red shoulders are visible whenever the bird is perched, making it easy to recognize.

Meanwhile, all of its underparts are white with a red bar pattern.

Red-shouldered hawks are year-round residents of Missouri, especially in its southeastern regions.

They typically reside in woodlands near water, such as swamps, but they can also be found in suburban areas mixed into forested areas.


6. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-Tailed Hawk on a dead branch

Another one of the Missouri hawks that you can easily recognize is the Red-Tailed Hawk because of, you guessed it, its red tail.

On the other hand, its upperparts are brown with small white spots on the wings, while its underparts are white with brown streaks.

Its underwings are also white with brown streaks, except they have dark tips.

This raptor is one of the most common hawks around, present in Missouri throughout the year but most common in winter.

Red Tailed Hawks are also adaptable with their habitat, although they prefer open areas where perches are high and scattered. There may even visit suburban backyards!

If they aren't soaring through the sky in the daytime, you can find them perched on the highest tree branch or a telephone pole.


7. Rough Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

Rough Legged Hawk on the ground

This hawk has brown upperparts, but its head and underparts are pale with many brown streaks.

On the other hand, its underwings are pale with black edges, while its tail is plainly white on the upper half and heavily banded on the lower half.

Among the hawks of Missouri, this one has feathers all the way down its legs, hence its name.

They are only found in the USA during the non-breeding season, which means that the best way to find them is during winter when they migrate from the colder north.

In Missouri, they prefer living in open areas such as agricultural land, plains, and marshes, as long as there's an abundant rodent population.


8. Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Among the types of hawks in Missouri, this species is the smallest!

Sharp Shinned Hawks look almost identical to Coopers Hawks - blue-gray upperparts, white underparts with a rufous bar pattern, white underwings with blue-gray margins, and a white tail with black bands.

You can distinguish the two by size, as Coopers Hawks are significantly larger.

They can be found throughout Missouri, most commonly in the state's western regions. However, they aren't as active during the breeding season to avoid predators.

They are mostly seen in dense forestry as they avoid nesting in areas with low cover. Still, you may see this agile raptor stalking bird feeders to ambush prey such as songbirds!


9. Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

Swainson’s Hawk on a tree

For the final entry, this large hawk has dark brown upperparts, extending until its upper breast.

Its throat is plain white while the rest of its underparts are white with rufous spots.

Meanwhile, its underwings are also dark brown and its tail is white with brown bands.

Although Swainsons Hawks are found all throughout Missouri, they are only present in the USA during their breeding season once they migrate from South America.

Along with Broad Winged Hawks, this species is very migratory, traveling for about 6000 miles during migration!

With this, the best time to look for this hawk in Missouri is during warm months such as April and September. They prefer living in open areas with minimal tree cover, commonly perched on fences or telephone posts.

Watch this sighting of a Swainson’s Hawk:


Frequently Asked Questions

Can you kill hawks in Missouri?

Even though there are recorded conflicts between raptors and humans, raptors, such as hawks, are still federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

This means that you can't capture, kill, and possess hawks (and their parts) unless you have a permit given by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If hawks (or any raptor) are bothering your home or local livestock, it's best to call professionals, especially if you don't have any experience handling them.

What hawks can be seen in Missouri?

As mentioned above, the nine Missouri hawks are:

  • Broad Winged Hawk
  • Coopers Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red Shouldered Hawk
  • Red Tailed Hawk
  • Rough Legged Hawk
  • Sharp Shinned Hawk
  • Swainsons Hawk

Where are hawks in the food chain?

As hawks are classified as birds of prey, they are at the top of the food chain.

Hawks have a varied diet that changes with season and location. Most of them consume small mammals, such as rodents, and small birds, such as finches and songbirds.

Still, they can eat large insects, small reptiles and amphibians, spiders, small fish, and even carrion.

However, they still have predators, especially towards their young. These include foxes, raccoons, and larger raptors such as the Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, and other hawks.

Final Remarks

Since there are many hawks that live in Missouri, it would be best to learn their most identifying characteristics - their appearance.

However, you can't forget about season and weather as well; you don't want to miss out on your favorite Missouri hawk just because you're at the wrong place and the wrong time.

With that, we hope our Missouri hawk identification will help you with your next bird watching in the state.

Once you hear those Missouri hawk sounds, lookup, grab your camera or binoculars, and see these wonderful birds in action!

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