During the winter birds of prey are abundant on telephone poles, bare trees, fence posts and other perches. When Leonard and I drive about we make a game of counting raptors, always attempting to set a new record for birds along particular stretches of the road. Our record is 30 in a five mile stretch. We also attempt to identify the species of hawk as we pass – not always easy to do since hawks exhibit bewildering variation in their plumage.
One of my favorite winter hawks is the ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), the largest American hawk. The female ferruginous hawk is up to one and a half times larger than the male. Even from a distance a ferruginous hawk’s size often gives a clue to its identity.
A ferruginous hawk often occupies a telephone pole just down the road from our house (Modoc County CA). This picture shows several of its distinguishing features. The legs are feathered down to the toes. (The only raptors with feathered legs are the ferruginous and rough-legged hawks and the golden eagle.) The yellow gape (fleshy edge of the mouth visible on the side of the head) is prominent and long, extending past the center line of the eye. The cere (fleshy base of the upper beak through which the nostrils open) is yellow and large. And the underside of the tail is white without bars or other markings.
Although all the birds of prey are magnificent, however the ferruginous hawk is one of my favorites.