Watch for Red-Tailed Hawks

Dec 31, 2017

 January 3 - January 9

Discover Nature this week as you watch for red-tailed hawks perched along highways, and consider what their presence says about other resident wildlife.

Identifying the red-tailed hawk is easy, since the highly-visible rusty-red tail feathers cannot be confused with any other species in Missouri. The red-tailed hawk is a powerful, husky hawk with a wingspan known to reach almost 60 inches wide. Its loud, defiant scream and frequent soaring are familiar to Missourians and its aggressiveness and adaptability have made it the most numerous and successful bird of prey in North America.

In Missouri, red-tails prefer mixed forest and farmlands, but they successfully live in any habitat with relatively sturdy, tall trees for nesting, red cedars or pines for roosting, and readily available prey populations.

Red-tails dominate all other Missouri hawks both in winter and during nesting. They often steal prey from northern harriers or displace northern rough-legged hawks from hunting perches. During nesting, red-tails often pre-empt nest sites from red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks while occasionally adding these and smaller hawks and owls to their menu.

Red-tailed hawks probably take a greater variety of prey than any other American raptor except the golden eagle. They play a large role in maintaining rodent populations because whatever animal is most abundant and most easily caught is their top choice for dinner. Not a picky eater, the red-tailed hawk eats small mammals and rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates like crayfish, grasshoppers, and worms.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, a healthy population of birds of prey, like red-tailed hawks is a good indicator of ecological diversity and environmental health. Abundance and variety of these birds in a given area demonstrates the presence of a healthy assortment of plants and animals on which they depend for survival.