The rural areas of Missouri are called home by hundreds of wild animals and birds. Every species has its own niche in the food chain.

Some are vegetarians while others depend upon their hunting skills to fill their bellies and the bellies of their hungry young.

The red-tailed hawk is among the most common birds of prey in Missouri.

Today I would like to take a closer look at some of the winged predators that inhabit our skies. I will not touch on nearly all of them, but I will attempt to cover the most commonly seen birds of prey in our region.

My reference source for most of the biologically technical information is “The Field Guide To Birds Of North America.”

• THE BALD EAGLE — Even though our area is only a wintering zone for this majestic bird, its presence is significant.

Adults are easily identified by their white head and tail, and also their huge yellow bill. Yearling birds are mostly dark and are often confused with the golden eagle.

The bald eagle also has a proportionately larger head and bill along with a longer tail. The immature bald eagle is also often mistaken for a turkey vulture. The flat-winged soar of the eagle, however, differs from the “V” winged soar of the vulture.

Bald eagles require four or five years to reach full adult plumage. The bald eagles that frequent our area in the winter appear mostly along the Mississippi River, where they feed mainly on fish. The eagles nest high up in very tall trees and some very serious conservation programs have caused bald eagle numbers to rise in recent years.

• GREAT HORNED OWL — The large body and bulky shape along with a white throat, separate the great horned owl from the smaller long-eared owl. The large ear tufts distinguish it from all other owl species.

This owl is at home in every environment from dense forest to suburban areas. It will nest in trees, caves or on the ground.

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