Rough-legged Hawk

Buteo lagopus (hare footed)
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton
  • Length: 19 – 24 inches
  • Wingspan: 48-60 inches    
  • Weight: male 600-1370 gm, female 780-1660 gm

The Rough-legged Hawk has a proportionally longer wings and tail than the typical buteo.  Plumage is variable but all birds, including immatures,  have a white tail with conspicuous broad dark terminal band. Females have one narrow inconspicuous bar above the broad subterminal band while the males have several light tail bars.  There are dark and light phase birds.
Dark phase: Adults have all dark bodies with the aforementioned white-banded tail. In flight the underwings display much white.
Light phase: Adults have a light brown head that contrasts with a darker brown body. In flight, the black at the bend of the wing and the white tail identify this bird. Most light phase birds show a black belly, but some only have brown belly barring.
Immatures have a rather conspicuous white edging to the tail below a single brown band, as well as, small white patches at the base of the primaries on the upperwing.
The bird is named for the feathering on the tarsi suggesting a rabbit’s leg.

 

Subspecies: 
Four recognized; only one in U.S. (B.l. sanctijohannes)
Distribution: 
Alaska and northern Canada to sw, central and eastern U.S.
Habitat: 
Tundra, flat lowlands, and open terrain such as prairies, cultivated fields and marshes.
Feeding: 
Mammals make up 80% of the diet; preferred prey is lemmings and voles, but mice, shrews, hares, ground squirrels, pikas, weasels and even bats are taken. When rodents are scarce, the diet will include birds such as buntings, thrushes, grouse, waders and waterbirds. Fish, insects and carrion are occasionally eaten. Although they do hunt from high perches, they are most noted for their hovering flight when they seem to hang motionless in the air.
Breeding: 
April – May. A thick nest of sticks, lined with greenery, hair and feathers, is constructed on a protected ledge, in a hollow on cliffs, rocky outcroppings, riverbanks or ravines; less often it is placed 20-30 feet high in the top of a tree. Often several nests are built in the same area and reused in turn for years to come. The clutch is 3 – 5 eggs. First breeding occurs in the second year.
Movements: 
Migratory. Distance of migration varies with the abundance of rodents in the breeding range, as well as the southern extent of snowcover. Spring migration starts in April, while fall migration extends from mid September to early November.
Status: 
Population seems stable. Widespread and common in northern breeding range where human interference is minimal.