Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rough-legged Hawk

Winter Hawks

Rough-legged Hawk Light Morph
Even though winter has come there are still hawks around.  On a recent run through Sheffield to Jemseg we saw 9 Red-tailed Hawks and 4 Rough-legged Hawks.  Another birder just 2 days before on the same run saw 12 Red-tailed Hawks, 17 Rough-legged Hawks and 5 Northern Harriers.  It is likely that some of those hawks have now left but there are still Rough-legs and Red-tails around.

This time of year it is easy to see the hawks.  They are either flying or perched in hardwood trees.  The trees are now bare of leaves making it easy to see them.  They sit high in the trees in good observation areas, watching for movement of rodents upon which they can feed.  Some of these hawks will remain all winter if the food supply lasts.

Rough-legged Hawk Light Morph Showing Belly and Wrist Patches

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a winter buteo.  It is named because it is feathered down its legs to its toes.  There are only 2 other species with that characteristic, Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle.  It is a holarctic species, being found also in Europe and Asia.  It breeds in the Arctic in tundra and taiga habitats where it nests on rocks and cliffs.  It migrates to southern Canada and northern US during the winter where it prefers marshes, plains, and agricultural areas where rodents are abundant.

The Rough-legged Hawk occurs in two forms called morphs, light and dark morph.  Both morphs are seen here.  The light morph, shown in both photos above, is boldly patterned.  It shows a dark belly patch and dark wrist patches.  The dark morph is uniformly dark when perched and in flight shows light primary wing feathers on the underwing and white under the tail.  Males are darker than females.

Rough-legged Hawk Dark Morph
Shown above is a dark morph individual.  Seen at a distance it might be mistaken for a crow.  Hawks are interesting to observe.  Winter is a good time to get out and see what is around.

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