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Discover Nature: Red-Tailed Hawks

A red-tailed hawk with brown and white feathers blends into its surroundings, perched on a tree branch in a snow storm.
Watch for red tailed hawks perched on roadsides and field edges as they hunt for snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.

While cruising down a Missouri highway this winter, keep an eye out for a predator on the prowl.


Often known as “highway hawks” for their roadside perches, red-tailed hawks are “brown above, and white below,” and adults have a rust-red tail with a narrow black band near the end.  They stand nearly two feet tall with a wingspan more than double their height.  


These hawks usually nest in open woodlands or in trees in grasslands and crops – frequently within city limits – hunting snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.  


Pairs of hawks may stay together for years on the same territory, sometimes renovating the same nest with fresh green leaves or pine needles, which repel parasites, and help hide their young nestlings.


This Missouri-native and year-round resident of Missouri is protected by federal and state laws and is considered sacred by many American Indian tribes.  


Learn more about red-tailed hawks with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide


Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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