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Rough-legged Hawk

Above: Rough-legged Hawk by Christian Artuso

How Do I Recognize It?

Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) are large, slender birds with a small beak and long, narrow and broadly-tipped wings. Adapted to life in the Arctic, the legs are feathered to the toes (the feature which gives the species its common name) and the feet are proportionately small. The tail is long. Individuals come in light, intermediate and dark morphs; plumages vary between males, females and immatures. Dark wrist patches, a variably dark belly and whitish tail with a dark, broad terminal band are features of light morph individuals – the most commonly seen morph in Manitoba. Above, light individuals are brownish with a white patch at the base of the tail.  Dark morph individuals are uniformly brown above, sometimes almost black in colour below, but with pale flight feathers on the undersides of the wings just as in light morph indivduals. 

Does It Migrate?

Summering in Arctic regions of North America (also Eurasia), individuals spend the winter in southern Canada and through much of the United States (excluding the southeast).

Above: Rough-legged Hawk by Christian Artuso

Where Does It Live?

Roughies, as they are sometimes called, breed in the Taiga Shield and Hudson Plains areas, and the Arctic Plains & Mountians regions. Stick nests are built on cliffs, hilltops or on structures such as elevators and towers (rarely in trees).

Where Can I See It?

In migration, this species is widespread. Best seen in the fall and winter months in the extreme southern areas of the province. They often perch on power poles, or hovering over open fields, prairies and marshes looking for prey (small mammals).

Above: Rough-legged Hawks by Christian Artuso

Conservation Status:

Collisions with vehicles, trapping and shooting are serious threats during the overwintering period. Increased human activities in Arctic regions may become a danger to this species in the future.

Did You Know?

Newfoundland marks the southeastern limit of this species' breeding range in Canada. Normally a rare sight in Newfoundland, breeding season influxes have been documented – it is hypothesized that low prey availability in the Labrador Peninsula area further north accounts for these invasions.

Above: Rough-legged Hawk by Christian Artuso