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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Hawks & Owls

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged hawk on a twisted log

Rough-legged Hawks have a circumpolar distribution, inhabiting the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. They are adapted to cold climates and can be found in a variety of habitats, including tundra, open grasslands, marshes, and scrublands. During the breeding season, they prefer nesting in treeless areas such as cliffs or rocky outcrops.

Rough-legged Hawks are named for the rough feathering on their legs and feet, which help insulate them in cold environments. They also have feathers that extend all the way to their toes, protecting them from the harsh winter conditions. Their plumage varies, but most individuals have a mix of dark and light coloration, including dark-brown to black belly bands and a pale head and underparts.

They are primarily hunters of small mammals. Their diet mainly consists of rodents such as voles, mice, lemmings, and ground squirrels. They have keen eyesight and hover in mid-air, scanning the ground for movement. Once prey is spotted, they perform a slow, hovering descent or perch on a prominent vantage point before launching an aerial attack. They can also spot prey from a distance while soaring in search of food.

Rough-legged Hawks typically build their nests on cliffs or in trees, although they may also use artificial structures such as utility poles or large nests of other raptors. They construct a bulky nest made of sticks, twigs, grass, and lined with softer materials such as moss, lichens, or feathers. The nests are often refurbished and reused in subsequent breeding seasons.

Females lay a clutch of 2 to 5 eggs, with an average of 3. The eggs are usually laid at intervals of a couple of days. Incubation is primarily done by the female and lasts around 32 to 35 days. The male provides food for the female during this period. After hatching, both parents participate in raising the young. The chicks are fed regurgitated food by their parents.

Rough-legged Hawk chicks fledge, or leave the nest, at around 5 to 6 weeks of age. They spend some time in the vicinity of the nest, practicing flight and honing their hunting skills. During this period, the parents continue to provide food and guidance. The young hawks gradually become independent and disperse to establish their own territories.

In Autumn, rough-legged hawks migrate south to warmer areas in North America, Europe and northern Asia. In the winter, they can be found in a variety of habitats, including agricultural fields, open grasslands, marshes, and coastal areas. They are known to gather in large numbers in some wintering areas.