Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Volume 3, Number 1 - October 1956

Hawks in Kansas

by Conservation Workshop Members

Hawks in Kansas

COVER PICTURE, taken by E. L. Anderson, shows a nest of newly hatched marsh hawks near the Lyon County State Lake, 14 miles northeast of Emporia. According to Ted F. Andrews, Professor of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, who observed this nest many times from early May until the young hawks left it, this picture, taken May 30, 1956, shows hawks of three ages. The upper right one was seven days old, the upper left one five days, and the lower center one, one day. The two eggs shown in the picture failed to hatch. The nest was about fourteen inches in diameter; the coarse materials were mostly stems of smartweed, the finer materials grasses and miscellaneous fibers.

PDF of Issue


Published by
The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

John E. King, President

Prepared and Issued by
The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Divisions of Education and Social Science

Editor: John Breukelman, Head, Department of Biology

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Helen M. Douglass, Dixon Smith

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to any citizen of Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class mail privileges authorized at Emporia, Kansas.


THIS ISSUE OF The Kansas School Naturalist was prepared by the production section of the 1956 Workshop in Conservation. The Workshop, supported by a grant-in-aid from the Kansas Association for Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, was a part of the 1956 summer session of the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia. The committee in charge consisted of Ruth L. Fox, Allen School, Hutchinson, Kansas, and L. U. West, Planeview High School, assisted by Lee Province, a senior at the college. The drawings are by Sandra Beck, a senior in Emporia High School. The photographs were taken by E. L. Anderson, of Emporia State's Department of Art.

Hawks in Kansas

Two incidents led to the selection of "Hawks" as the topic for this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist.

First, a teacher of vocational agriculture in a Kansas high school directed this question to the educational representative of the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission: "How many pOints should I allow, in our pest control project, for killing a red-tailed hawk?"

Second, a Kansas daily newspaper had an illustrated story about a high school student who had killed nearly 100 hawks, during the months from September to January, in a sponsored "pest control" project. The story was printed in several other papers, and in most cases it was told as if the killing of the hawks were a praiseworthy act.

It is quite possible that an interested biology teacher might have saved most of the hawks mentioned in the newspaper story. This issue of KSN is an attempt to provide some of the information which may enable teachers, scout leaders, conservationists, sponsors of youth groups, parents, and other interested persons to help in the conservation of hawks and their near relatives, which are among our important natural resources.

The encouraging thing about the hawk incident was the considerable number of letters, editorials, and other comments which followed. Space permits printing only a few quotations from these, selected to bring out some of the points important to conservation. On the following pages are quotations from a statement by Dr. Harrison B. Tordoff, ornithologist at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Kansas, from an editorial in The Topeka Daily Capital, and from several letters sent in by newspaper readers. These indicate that many people are aware of the value of hawks.

In this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist we present descriptions of most of the Kansas hawks and of their near relatives, the vultures and eagles. We hope that the descriptions are sufficiently clear to enable interested persons to recognize beneficial hawks when they see them.


Few things arouse greater despair in conservationists than discovery that a youth guidance program ... can become so misdirected as to encourage and reward wholesale killing of highly beneficial birds ...

So-called "chicken hawks" are actually any of several kinds of large soaring hawks. The 85 hawks killed . . . were examined by Prof. Harrison B. Tordoff, ornithologist at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History. Eighty-four were Red-tailed Hawks, one was a Marsh Hawk. Scientists have proved repeatedly and conclusively that both of these species are highly beneficial in food habits. Rarely does either species kill chickens or game birds. Instead, they feed largely on rodents which are harmful to agriculture.

Each hawk of the 85 killed would eat at least three rats or mice per day. It each rodent destroys 10 cents worth of forage or garden crops in a year, the 85 hawks would, in one year, have saved farmers over $9300...

Two kinds of hawks in Kansas do feed regularly on birds. These are the Cooper Hawk and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Both kinds are uncommon or rare and are very elusive, living in woodlands where hunters rarely get a shot at them. Even these species should be killed only when actual damage to chickens occurs. Proper control should be directed only at the individual responsible for the damage . . . Game managers and other conservationists know that normal predation on game species helps to maintain strong and healthy populations. It helps to remember that the "good old days" of abundant game were also the days before "pest," "varmint," and other predator control programs.

Persons with a true love and understanding of wildlife recognize that every animal has its place in nature's scheme. These people feel that a countryside lacking hawks, owls, and coyotes would have lost much of its appeal. They feel that indiscriminate slaughter of predators is morally wrong, as well as economically harmful.

Red-tailed Hawks, Marsh Hawks, and most other hawks and owls are protected by law in Kansas. In spite of this legal protection, the slaughter goes on unchecked year after year. Seldom does one read of any arrest or prosecution for hawk killing. Game agents say frankly that violations are ignored because public sentiment for protection of predators is lacking. Must we have on our conscience the gradual decline and perhaps eventual extinction of these superb creatures? - creatures useful to man, too! Above all, can we permit encouragement of youths in senseless hawk-killing through badly misguided school programs? Where is our conservation conscience? The time has come to require that the laws of our state be enforced by judges and officers charged with this duty.

January 16, 1956
Harrison B. Tordoff


Federal and state game protectors, plus a large number of conservationists and bird lovers generally, are concerned over the exploits of boys engaged in a so-called "pest-control" program.

Under the state law only three kinds of. hawks and the great horned owl are defined as predatory. The Cooper's, Sharpshin and Goshawk, all small, fast-flying hawks, are included in the list permitted to be killed. The federal and state game protectors have visited the boy, and informed him of the regulations. Heavy fines and possible jail sentences are prescribed for violation of the game laws...

The law does provide that certain migratory birds, such as blackbirds, may be killed if destroying grain or orchards. Most hawks are listed as migratory, hence are protected under federal laws based on treaties with Canada and Mexico, just as are song birds, wildfowl and other birds while crossing the United States on their annual migrations...

Promiscuous shooting of good and bad hawks also may lead to destruction of the bald eagle, protected by both federal and state laws, according to our game protectors. Several thoughtless hunters have been arrested and fined for destroying this harmless bird, which is easily stalked when watching the fields for rats, mice, or rabbits.

Organizations ·that have pest control as part of their programs should educate their youthful members in the identification of useful birds and those that are harmful.

Editorial in The Topeka Daily Capital, January 17, 1956.

The following are quotations from letters printed in the Kansas City Star.


My letter is a mild protest in regard to a picture and story... There are several things wrong with the story, but worst is the possible effect of the thing on our boys. The conservation commission has labored long in this state to help those lads along constructive paths... The main diet of red tails (and I suspect most of those on the fence are red tails since they are easiest to hit with a gun) has been proved over and over - in all sections of the country - to be rodents...

James F. Keefe
Associate Editor Missouri Conservationist


If mice, ground squirrels, gophers, snakes and rabbits overrun the farm, and the farmer begins to wonder why, he will have the answer when he looks at the picture of the hawks he has killed...

If he will study the habits of the birds, I believe he will find he is doing himself harm.

F. C. McNitt
Washington, Kansas


...Most hawks live on mice and other rodents and more than compensate for the occasional chicken they catch. To my mind, they are much more interesting to see perched in a high tree or sailing in the sky than the sight of their dead bodies strung on a wire fence.

J.J. McKinny
DeWitt, Missouri


If you want to start an argument, bring up the subject of hawks. "The only good hawks are dead hawks" is a familiar saying. It is a shame that people still persist in condemning the hawks of Kansas. Our state has passed laws protecting all but three of them. Of all the kinds found in the state, only three can be counted as harmful - the crow-sized Cooper's hawk, the smaller sharp-shinned hawk, and the rare (in Kansas) goshawk. All other hawks are beneficial. An individual may once in a while pounce on a chicken, or more rarely a game bird, but the number of rat and mouse pests they destroy far outweighs their misdeeds.

Next time you see a hawk making circles in the sky or sitting majestically atop a lone tree in a pasture, hold back that urge to shoot at it. If he dives into a chicken yard or captures a game bird (which is rarer than you think) go after him; otherwise be thankful that he is your friend in the battle for survival.

Naturalists who have made studies of the redtail's food habits have found that about seventy-five per cent of its food consists of injurious rats and mice. Poultry and game amount to only about seven per cent. You can see that the common name "hen hawk" is wrongly applied. A better name would be "mouse hawk" or "rat hawk."

The Red-tailed hawk, Swainson's hawk (a common hawk of the dry prairie country of western Kansas) and the marsh hawk (which we see Hying low to the ground over the prairies of Kansas ) are three of the most valuable hawks of Kansas, because their diet is made up mostly of harmful rodents.

The Cooper's hawk is the true black sheep of the hawks. His misdeeds have caused the wrath of man to be leveled at the entire hawk group. Birds are his main food. He has been known to inflict losses among the flocks of poultry raisers. He is a threat to game birds. Many people call the Cooper's hawk the "blue darter." He lives in the deep woods where he slips through the trees so cleverly that he is seldom seen. Beneficial hawks, because of their habit of living in the open, usually fall victim to the gun of the angry farmer whose chickens have been stolen by the Cooper's hawk.

Hunting cartoon


In the broad sense the term "hawk" may include all the birds listed in this issue; in a narrow sense the term includes only a part of the family Accipitridae (the "true hawks").

In a non-technical sense these birds of prey which are either hawks or hawklike may be grouped into eight categories, as follows:

  1. Vultures, often called "buzzards," although "buzzard" was the original term for the Buteos.
  2. Kites, found mostly in the south.
  3. Accipiters, or "true hawks," including the harmful species of Kansas.
  4. Buteos, originally known as buzzard hawks, including many of the most valuable species. These are, except for the eagles and vultures, the largest of the Kansas forms.
  5. Eagles, the largest Kansas birds of prey.
  6. Harriers, represented in Kansas only bv the Marsh Hawk, one of our most c~mmon and most beneficial birds of prey.
  7. Ospreys, represented in Kansas by only one species, and that not common.
  8. Falcons, the most streamlined hawks, with long painted wings, most commonly represented in Kansas by the blue-jay sized sparrow hawk.


For those interested in the taxonomic relationships of the hawks, the following checklist of the Kansas species is included. The list is according to Tordoff's Check-list of the Birds of Kansas, which may be obtained for 25 cents from the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

Order Falconiformes, Vultures, Hawks, Eagles, Falcons

Family Catharthidae, Vultures

Cathartes aura, Turkey Vulture, throughout state.

Coragyps tratus, Black Vulture, once occurred in southeast, but no record since 1885.

Family Accipitridae, Kites, Hawks, Eagles

Elanoides forficatus, Swallow-tailed Kite, formerly summer resident in at least eastern half of state.

Ictinia Misisippiensis, Mississippi Kite, south-central Kansas.

Accipiter gentilis, Goshawk, rare and irregular winter visitor in east.

Accipiter striatus, Sharp-shinned Hawk, throughout state.

Accipiter cooperii, Cooper's Hawk, throughout state.

Buteo jamaicensis, Red-tailed Hawk, throughout state.

Buteo lineatus, Red-shouldered Hawk, mostly in eastern Kansas.

Buteo platypterus, Broad-winged Hawk, fairly common in eastern Kansas.

Buteo swainsoni, Swainson's Hawk, more common in western two-thirds of state.

Buteo lagopus, Rough-legged Hawk, winter resident.

Buteo regalis, Ferruginous Rough-leg, common transient and winter resident in west, rare in east.

Parabuteo unicinctus, Harris' Hawk, accidental.

Aquila chrysaetos, Golden Eagle, formerly common resident.

Circus cyaneus, Marsh Hawk, common in winter, but seen all year throughout the state.

Family Pandionidae, Ospreys

Pandion haliaetus, Osprey, irregularly throughout state.

Family Falconidae, Falcons

Falco rusticolus, Gyrfalcon, accidental.

Falco mexicanus, Prairie Falcon, rare summer and fairly common winter resident in west.

Falco peregrinus, Duck Hawk, rare transient and winter resident.

Falco columbarius, Pigeon Hawk, uncommon transient and rare winter resident in east.

Falco spaverius, Sparrow Hawk, common resident.

THE NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY has a hawk protection circular entitled Hawks Are Your Friends. It contains silhouettes of common hawks and descriptions of their food habits and their importance in a wildlife community. The Society recommends distribution of the circulars to farm and sportsmen's groups, schools, Scout troops, 4-H clubs, and the like. The circulars are available at $8.00 per thousand. An organization ordering as many as 3000 circulars may have its name imprinted without additional cost. Persons wishing to use these circulars or other information may want to get the bulletin How to Conduct a Hawk or Owl Campaign, available free from the Society. Address: Public Information Department, National Audubon Society, 1130 Fifth Ave., New York 28,


Bichard, John, The Hawks of North America, The National Association of Audubon Societies, 1775 Broadway, New York, New York. 1935

Goodrich, Arthur L. Jr., Birds in Kansas, State Board of Agriculture, Topeka, Kansas. 1945.

Palmer, E. Lawrence, Fieldbook of Natural History, McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., N.Y. 1949

Pearson, Gilbert, Birds of North America, Garden City Publishing Co., Garden City, N.Y. 1942

Peterson, Roger, A Field Guide to the Birds, Houghton Mifflin Co. , Boston, Mass.

Pough, Richard H., Audubon Water Bird Guide, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N .Y. 1951.

Zim, Herbert S. and Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, Simon and Schuster, New York (A Golden Nature Guide) 1949.

Audubon Magazine, Audubon Societies, 1775 Broadway, New York, New York.

Nature Magazine, The American Nature Association, 1214 16th Street N.W., Washington 6, D.C.



Since hawks are frequently seen flying overhead, the flight profiles on the opposite page will help to identify them.

Vultures soar in large circles, their wings held above the horizontal. The head, being without feathers, is so small that the vulture appear almost headless. The wings are broad and rounded, the tail rather long.

The Mississippi kite, almost the size of a crow, has a medium sized head, pointed wings, and a long notched tail.

The Accipters, two of which (sharp-shinned and Cooper's) are described in this issue, have short rounded wings and long tails. They do not soar much, but dart out after their prey. Typical flight consists of several wing beats, followed by a short glide.

The Buteos, five of which are described in this issue, are large hawks with broad rounded wings and short rounded tails. They spend much time soaring high in the air. This group includes some of the most valuable hawks, both in the nation and in Kansas.

The Eagles look like Buteos, but are larger and their wings are longer in proportion to their width. The wings are held almost precisely horizontal when soaring.

The Marsh hawk, which is the only representative of the Harriers found in Kansas, has long rounded wings and a long rounded tail. The wings are held at an angle above the horizontal when soaring.

The Osprey, which is the onlv member of its family in Kansas, is shaped like a Buteo, but has a larger tail in proportion to its body size, and has more of a kink or bend at the middle of the wing.

The Falcons, represented in this issue by the sparrow hawk, have long pointed wings and long tails. In the case of the smaller ones there is practically no soaring, the wing strokes being rapid and continuous.

The members of the production section of the 1956 Workshop in Conservation of the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia, supported by a grant-in-aid from the Kansas Association for Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, prepared textual material and illustrations for four issues of The Kansas School Naturalist - "Hawks," "Trees," "Spiders," and "Life in a Pond." These issues will appear during the course of the next year.

Front row, left to right: Marie Shrock, Wilmore, grades 5 and 6; Evan Lindquist, Junior, Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia; William B. Fletcher, Downs High School, Social Science; Paul G. Jantzen, Radium High School, Science.

Middle row: Ruth Louise Fox, Allen School, Hutchinson, 3rd grade; Katie M. Robinson, Cheney, grades 1 to 5; Mrs. Bert Brickell, Flowerhill Farm, Saffordville, Garden Editor of the Emporia Gazette; Carl W. Prophet, Instructor of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia; Harland Pankratz, Buhler High School, Science; Ida Mae Cook, Yoder, grades 1 and 2.

Back row: John Breukelman, Director of the Workshop; L. Ulverton West, Plainview High School, Science; H. W. Davies, Chapman High School, Biology and Chemistry; Frank Darrell Timken, Lansing Rural High School, Science and Social Science; Winjfred E. Utter, Senior, Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia. Not in picture, but participating in part of the workshop, Frances Evans, Coyville, grades 1 and 2; William Chai, Conway Springs High School, Physical Education.


"All owls are protected by law (legally speaking) except one-the Great Horned Owl. The owls which we commonly have in Western Kansas are the little screech owl, the monkey-faced owl, the short-eared owl, the burrowing owl, and the great-horned owl.

These owls are all great mousers. While the hawks are diurnal (daytime) in their food-getting habits, the owls are nocturnal (night-time) food hunters. So both kinds of rodents and other small mammals (diurnal and nocturnal) are kept in check by one or the other of these capable rodent hunters.

The great-horned owl is our largest owl and powerful enough to easily kill a chicken, which it is likely to do if the chicken roosts out in the open.

The burrowing owl is more or less a day-time owl and lives largely on insects, lizards, snakes, with occasionally a young prairie dog.

With the exception of the great-horned owl the owls are exceedingly beneficial to man. One easy way to determine what an owl eats is to find its roosting or nesting place and there pick up the so-called pellets which contain the indigestible parts (fur and bones) of what they have eaten. These parts are done up in neat little pellets by the digestive tract and regurgitated."

The above is a quotation from Vol. 6, No. 11 of The West Kansan, a monthly leaflet published by The Western Kansas Development Association. This issue, which reached the editor's desk just as we were getting ready to go to print, also contains an article entitled "Good And Bad Hawks" which includes details of the feeding habits of some of the hawks and also some aids to recognition. If interested, write the secretary of the Association, L. D. Wooster, P.O. Box 581, Hays, Kansas.

"Hawks" committee of 1956 Workshop examine Red-tailed Hawk.


In 1899 only five states offered any legal protection to hawks, eagles or owls. By 1949 thirty states protected all species except the so called "bird hawk" and the homed owl.

Eight states now have laws that are inconsistent with the Federal protection afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; however, as of 1955, only six states fail to protect any hawks or owls. They were Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Rhode Island protects only the osprey.

It is becoming generally recognized that it is ecologically unsound to classify any wildlife species categorically as "harmful" since each has its function in maintaining a healthy wildlife community. Control should be undertaken only in cases where specific damage to health, crops, livestock, or property is involved.

Most state laws still exempt from protection the Accipiters or "bird hawks," as well as horned owls, thus reflecting the idea that bird species should categorically be listed as "harmful" or "beneficial." As a result, little attempt is made to enforce the laws in many areas, because, in general, the only people who can distinguish between the protected and the unprotected hawks are those who would not shoot them anyway. A violator brought into court often pleads that he thought he was shooting a harmful hawk, and usually the case is dropped.

In order to reduce the slaughter of hawks that are funneled into narrow flight lanes during migration, some conservationists have proposed that all hawks be protected, by an act of Congress, during the periods from September 1 to November 30 and from March 1 to April 30. Hawks would then be under state jurisdiction except during these periods, which include most of their migration.

Probably the most significant development of the past decade is the passing of laws in Connecticut, Michigan, and Indiana, protecting all species of hawks and owls except when they are doing specific damage. Some other states and Canadian provinces are also working to secure similar laws.

Turkey Vulture

Common Name
Scientific Name Cathartes aura
DESCRIPTION Length, 2 1/2 feet; spread, 6 feet. Tail long and round, wings when folded reach beyond tip of tail. Head and upper portion of neck bare or with only a few bristles, with skin deeply corrugated. Head has reddish tinge with shades of white and blue; feathers dull grayish- brown. Bill dull whitish, and feet flesh colored.
Commonly 2 eggs, sometimes 1 and rarely 3; white creamy, variously spotted with lavender or purplish brown. Nest from February to June in cavities between rocks, hollow logs, or on the ground; sometimes in caves.
RANGE Most of the United States, and Southern Canada; throughout Kansas.
FOOD Mainly carrion (dead flesh), but also snakes, toads, rats and mice. Highly beneficial as a scavenger.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Ugly except in flight, it is an invaluable health protector in warm latitudes where it feeds on carrion, being guided to its food by sense of sight-no smell. What it lacks in beauty and grace afoot it compensates for when on the wing. Its circling form, on motionless, widely outstretched wings is common in the Kansas skyscape. The vulture soars for hours at great heights scanning the ground with its keen eyes.


Mississippi Kite

Common Name
Scientific Name Ictinia misisippiensis
DESCRIPTION Length 13 to 17 inches, spread 34 to 37 inches. Color bluish gray, lighter on head, neck and upper part of wings, darker on shoulders and lower part of wings; tail black, square ended or slightly notched; eyes red; legs vermillion or orange.
Nests in high tree tops, often in old nests of other species, lined with Spanish moss or green leaves; 2 to 3 pale bluish-green unmarked eggs, sometimes with faint spots or stains.
RANGE Ranges from central United States to Florida and Gulf States; summer resident in south central Kansas.
FOOD Large beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, lizards, small snakes and frogs.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Long winged and graceful in flight; often seen sailing in easy circles at a great height, or sometimes sweeping along like a swallow over wooded waterways. Its general bluish tone, with lighter, almost white head, darker wings and black fan-shaped tail, easily distinguished in flight. Because of considerable esthetic and scientific value it should be given complete



Common Name
Scientific Name Accipiter striatus
DESCRIPTION Length; male, 11 inches, female, 13 inches. Wing varies from 23 to 27 inches. Color above, dark bluish-white; below, white. Tail square or slightly notched at tip.
A nest containing 4 to 5 dull bluish or greenish white, with blotches of brown of varying sizes is found in conifers or rarely on ledges of rocks built of small sticks lined with leaves or bark. The nest is large for a bird of this size. Rarely nests in Kansas.
RANGE Breeds throughout the United States and Canada. In Kansas, common in winter.
FOOD Smaller birds, small poultry, insects, especially grasshoppers and moths.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Upholds the tradition of hawks for destructiveness. A persistent campaign of education, teaching difference between destructive and valuable Hawks, is necessary. This hawk and Cooper's hawk are generally harmful and not protected in most states.


Common Name
Scientific Name Accipiter cooperii
DESCRIPTION Length, 18 to 20 inches; spread, 30 to 36 inches; female larger. Short winged, long tailed; not quite as large as a crow. Blue-gray back, rusty breast. Head darker shade than Sharp-Shinned.
A bulky nest high in trees used several years, add to each year; may even appropriate an old crow's nest. Eggs 3 to 6, pale-bluish or greenish-white, sometimes plain, but usually spotted with pale reddish brown.
RANGE All of United States and southern third of Canada; nesting in eastern half of Kansas.
FOOD Largely birds , either small birds or the young of larger birds, also some field mice and ground squirrels.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Probably the most destructive of all hawks; not because it is individually worse, but because this species is more numerous than others. Fierce when hungry; darts in suddenly for its prey. Like the sharp-shinned hawk, not protected in Kansas.


Common Name
Scientific Name Buteo jamaicensis
DESCRIPTION Length, to 2 feet; wing-spread, to 56 inches; weight, to 4 pounds. Male smaller than female. Heavy appearing, with broad wings. Tail of adult, red above and little rounded. Dusky gray above, with lighter wings; yellow white, beneath. Band across belly, brown streaked. Much individual variation.
Nest large and bulky, of coarse sticks, 30 to 40 feet above ground in tree, or on cliff. Eggs, 2 to 4 dull white, irregularly marked with cinnamon brown, 2.50 by 2 inches. Incubation, 28 days, by female. Young blind, slightly downy, helpless when hatched.
RANGE Eastern North America from Gulf of Mexico to northern Canada, including all of Kansas.
FOOD Squirrels, mice, rabbits, insects and snakes. Seldom attacks poultry or other birds.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Moves slowly, often perching on a limb watching for mice and ground squirrels to feed its young. In flight, shows conspicuous white area on breast, with streaks to rear, and unbanded tail in adult. Protected by law in many states; should be in all. Probably as much as 75% of its food is harmful rodents.


Common Name
Scientific Name Buteo lineatus
DESCRIPTION Length, 18 to 24 inches; spread, 44 to 50 inches. Female often larger than the male. Weight, to 3 pounds. Gray brown, with reddish brown underparts. Reddish shoulder feathers, and tail with 4 to 5 brownish-black bars.
The nest a large bulky structure entirely of sticks, containing 3 to 5 dull white or bluish white eggs, blotched with yellowish brown. May be found in the lofty forks of an elm birch, maple, or beech (seldom in a conifer tree). Nests are used year after year.
RANGE Eastern North America, from Nova Scotia to Gulf Coast, including all of Kansas, but more common is eastern part of state.
FOOD Mice, ground squirrels and other rodents; seldom attacks poultry or other birds.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Whether soaring high and slowly or perched conspicuously upon a high perch near the open, may be identified by the rufous shoulder patch, the upper surface of wing is visible when circling. Probably about 90% of its food is harmful rodents and insects.


Common Name
Scientific Name Buteo platypterus
DESCRIPTION One of the smallest of the Buteos. The male is 14 to 17 inches long with a 32 to 38 wing spread; female slightly larger. Color: dark grayish-brown above, below whitish heavily barred with brown, throat white, wings silvery. Tail with 2 or 3 broad white bands.
Usually in crotches of trees from 10 to 80 feet above ground. Coarsely constructed of sticks, lined with small roots, bark, moss or feathers. Sometimes decorated with green sprigs. Lay 2 to 5 eggs very pale greenish or grayish white heavily marked with brown spots.
RANGE From Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario to Florida and Gulf of Mexico, and to Great Plains. Fairly common in eastern Kansas.
FOOD Grasshoppers, frogs, toads, crayfish, snakes, mice and other rodents; seldom eats poultry.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Gregarious in migration, flights of hundreds being observed at certain spots in Appalachian Mountains. One of the tamest of hawks. Often seen sitting on tree branches; soars little and for only short periods of time. Would be highly beneficial in Kansas if it were more numerous.


Common Name
Scientific Name Buteo swainsoni
DESCRIPTION Length, 20 to 22 inches; female slightly larger than male. Spread 47 to 57 inches; male a grayish brown, lighter on rump, tail gray, shading to white at base; forehead, thin and throat white, breast bright chestnut with dark bands: underparts silvery white or cream colored.
Nests may be in bushes or on ledges, but generally in the tallest trees toward the end of horizontal branches; constructed of small branches and twigs, lined with leaves. Eggs 2 to 4, white, greenish white, or buffy white, usually spotted or blotched with reddish brown.
RANGE Alaska down through Rocky Mountain region, to Mexico. Throughout Kansas, nesting more commonly in western two thirds.
FOOD Ground squirrels, frogs, meadow mice and other small rodents.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Prefers open prairies, coursing over them in a rather sluggish, circling flight until prey is observed when it suddenly is transformed into an alert and skillful hunter. Tame enough to be closely approached by man; easiest hawk to photograph.


Common Name
Scientific Name Buteo lagopus
DESCRIPTION Length, 19 t.o 2,1 inches; spread, 52 to 56 inches. About the size of the Red-tailed Hawk, but lighter, with more slender feet, and longer, more pointed wings. Feathers of legs extending to the toes. Upper plumage grayish brown margined with whitish and buffy; wings and tail barred with gray and whitish.
Nest a bulky structure of interlined sticks, grasses and weeds lined with finer grasses, located in large trees or on
ledges, used year after year. From 2 to 5 dingy white to buffy white eggs, sprinkled with blotches of brown.
RANGE Arctic: winter from edge of Canada to North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas. Migrates south to Mexico. Winters throughout Kansas, not more common in western part.
FOOD Field mice, rabbits, occasionally small birds.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Favorite hunting ground is the open country where rabbits and other winter rodents are common. Flight noiseless; often mistaken for an owl, since it hunts after dark. Would be more beneficial if it were present during the summer.


Common Name
Scientific Name Aquila chrysaetos
DESCRIPTION Three feet in length with a 7 to 7 1/2 foot spread; plumage is dark brown, legs, feathered to the toes, back of head is pale yellow while a broad white band stretches across the tail. Turn grayish with old age.
Nests in tall trees, or on cliffs, built with large twigs. Nests used year after year with new material each year until the nest may be 7 feet thick and 6 feet wide; 2 or 3 eggs, white, marked with bold spots.
RANGE Restricted largely to mountain regions of the west; formerly common throughout Kansas; now seen mostly in western part in winter.
FOOD Squirrels, rabbits, fawns, woodchucks, waterfowl. It sometimes carries off poultry.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS A successful hunter, seldom, if ever, eating carrion. May in one region exterminate or control rodents, while in another it destroys valuable wildlife. Probably more beneficial than harmful in nearly all areas.


Bald Eagle

Common Name
Scientific Name Haliaeetus leucocephal
DESCRIPTION Length; male, 30 to 35 inches, female 34 to 43 inches. Wing spread 6 to 8 feet. Leg bare for an inch or more above base of toes; plumage dark brown or black with freckles of white. Tail white. Head white after the third year.
Nests either on the ground, in tall trees or niches in rocky cliffs, built of large size sticks, weeds and bits of turf lined with grass; 2, rarely 3 large ivory white, granular surfaced eggs. One egg often larger than other.
RANGE Found along water areas from Alaska to Central Mexico. Breeds throughout entire range. Fairly common in winter in western Kansas, when large numbers may gather to roost.
FOOD Fish (either freshly caught or dead), rabbits, squirrels, mice, waterfowl.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS While soaring high in the air in search for food, can see 2 or 3 miles. In flight or at rest the Bald Eagle is majestic, its white head and tail lending dignity to its imposing form. It is our National Bird.


Marsh Hawk

Common Name
Scientific Name Circus cyaneus
DESCRIPTION Larger than crow. Male gray with black wing tips, silvery white beneath. Female streaked, brownish, lighter below. Both have white rump, which is the best recognition feature in the field. Tail long, barred with black. Wings long, narrow, rounded.
Nest on ground, made of twigs and grasses. Eggs, 4 to 6, dull, bluish white, 1.75 by 1.4 inches; incubation, by both parents, begins before full set is laid, one yearly brood. Young blind, helpless when hatched.
RANGE Throughout United States, also in Hawaii and the Barbados. Common throughout Kansas, more in winter than in summer.
FOOD Mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, frogs, snakes, and insects. Varies with season and local conditions.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS An interesting bird to watch, as it flies low over meadows, often hunting up and down shallow valleys. When flying, body tilts from side to side as the bird turns. Conspicuous enough, with white rump, to be recognized by most people as being different from other hawks. Highly beneficial throughout the state.



Common Name
Scientific Name Pandion haliaetus
DESCRIPTION Length, to 25 inches; 72 inches. Female somewhat larger than male. Weight to 5 pounds. Dark brown above, sometimes with white on top of head, but not on back of neck; usually, white below.
Nests, year after year, in same site, adding to old nest on pole, tree or ground. Eggs 2 to 4, dull white, with chocolate brown markings. No nesting record in Kansas.
RANGE Widely distributed over North America. Found from Alaska to the Gulf States. Seen irregularly throughout Kansas, usually in spring and fall.
FOOD Fish, taken alive or found dead along shores.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS Expert fishermen; technique of capturing prey interesting to see. Flapping along fifty or more feet above the water, the bird spots a fish, closes its wings, plunges headfirst, and hits the water with such momentum that it often goes out of sight.


Sparrow Hawk

Common Name
Scientific Name Falco sparverius
DESCRIPTION Male, length, 11 inches; wing-spread, 22 inches. Female, length, 12 inches; wing-spread, 25 inches. Weight, 4 ounces. Our smallest and handsomest hawk. Crown, ash-blue; conspicuous black patch on side of head. Tail, bright red-brown, with narrow black bars.
Nests in cavities in trees or ledges; chip-lined or bare. Eggs, 3 to 7, white to brownish, with finely shaded areas, 1.4 by 1.12 inches. Incubated, by both sexes, 29 to 30 days.
RANGE Breeds throughout North America east of Rockies, including all of Kansas.
FOOD Summer: grasshoppers, insects, spiders, and reptiles. Winter: mostly mice, occasionally small birds.
ECOLOGICAL HABITS A useful species; destroys large numbers of mice and insects. The only Kansas hawk that hovers in one spot, on rapidly beating wings. Commonly seen on telephone poles along the roadside; small enough to be mistaken for some of the larger song birds.



This is the upper left one of the hawks shown on the front cover-almost two months later. When this picture was taken, the hawk, a female, was about eight weeks old.



Birds of Prey; life habits of owls, hawks, vultures, eagles, including nesting and feeding; black-and-white, 11 minutes.

Great Horned Owl; nesting, eggs, young, feeding; black-and-white, 11 minutes.

Birds That Eat Flesh; hawks and owls, what they eat, and how; color, 6 minutes.

Two members of The Kansas School Naturalist editorial committee are on leave during the 1956-57 school year to do graduate work.

Dixon Smith, assistant professor of social science, has a Danforth Teacher Grant to work toward his Ph.D. in geography at the University of Minnesota. These grants, which are awarded only to college teachers, involve no teaching or research on the part of recipients.

Helen Douglass, assistant professor of education, is doing graduate work at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tenn. She is on sabbatical leave.

Two members of The Kansas School Naturalist editorial committee are on leave during the 1956-57 school year to do graduate work.

Dixon Smith, assistant professor of social science, has a Danforth Teacher Grant to work toward his Ph.D. in geography at the University of Minnesota. These grants, which are awarded only to college teachers, involve no teaching or research on the part of recipients.

Helen Douglass, assistant professor of education, is doing graduate work at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tenn. She is on sabbatical leave.


The Kansas School Naturalist Department of Biology 
  College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
Send questions / comments to
Kansas School Naturalist.
 Emporia State University