Favorite Winter Visitor

I cannot let winter pass without again mentioning one of my favorite cold-weather visitors, the rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus).  Soon this distinctive hawk with the white head and cape and feathered legs will head back to the far North.

Rough-legged hawks occur globally throughout northern latitudes. They summer and breed in the Arctic tundra where lemmings and voles are their primary prey. In the New World, rough-legged hawks winter in much of the United States (except the South East) and southern Canada. Small rodents such as mice, shrews and voles comprise most of their winter diet, although rough-legged hawks will eat carrion.

Rough-legged hawks are much more approachable than many other hawks. They are regularly seen during the winter perched on fence posts and utility poles while watching for prey. During the winter when Leonard and I see a large hawk facing the wind and hovering over the fields and pastures it is usually a rough-legged searching for a meal. Rough-legged hawks are one of few hovering raptors. (Kestrels also hover, but they are much smaller than rough-legged hawks.) Interestingly, rough-legged hawks also seem to spend more time on the ground than most hawks, a conclusion drawn from our own personal observations.

I miss the rough-legged hawks once they head North, but know in a few months they will return again.

This rough-legged hawk was sitting on a utility pole along County Road 91 near Lookout CA (Modoc County).


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