Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rough-legged Hawk

Large size, black belly, white base to the tail, all indicate that this photo is of a Rough-legged Hawk. Also note the dark underwing splotches on the flying bird’s wrists. John Holden and I encountered this individual in the Burnsville (Dakota Co.) landfill on 10 December 2014. We immediately knew the hawk’s identity because of its hunting habit of hovering above the wastelands surrounding the dump. Rough-legs can be completely black to very pale—I have posted photos of a much paler individual in an earlier post in this blog.

Like the Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawks breed across the arctic of both northern hemispheres. In North America, they winter to the southern United States (though they are less frequently observed in the southeast). They consume lemmings, voles, ground squirrels and birds. Breeding and wintering populations fluctuate in response to density of prey populations. Ornithologists do not know if, once in a wintering area, Rough-legged Hawks stay at one location or nomadically search for new areas with abundant prey (Bechard and Swem 2002).

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