- Last Updated: January 27, 2024
Unless you plan to trek to the far northern Arctic tundra during the summer breeding season, the best places to spot these large boldly patterned hawks are wide open farm fields, deserts, prairies, and similar habitats on their wintering grounds in southern Canada and across the United States. They display a distinctive hunting pattern by facing into the wind and hovering in one spot while searching the ground below for rodents and other small mammals. Rough-legged Hawks also perch on fence posts, utility poles and slender tree branches - places where most other large hawks don’t often perch.
Although Rough-legged Hawks share their cliffside breeding grounds in close proximity to Gyrfalcons and Peregrine Falcons, they don’t tolerate other Rough-legged Hawks nesting within one-quarter mile. The male selects the nest site, usually exposed on a cliff, and supplies most of the nesting materials to the female who builds the nest over 3-4 weeks. The nest is a bulky mass constructed with sticks, animal bones, fur, and feathers. Females lay 1-7 eggs and incubate over 31-37 days. The nestling period is 31-45 days, and both parents care for the young. Nestlings are big eaters – they can swallow whole prey at 16 days old and it has been estimated that two nestlings will eat 26 lbs. of food during 40 days in the nest.
Populations appear to be stable but will fluctuate locally or regionally based on prey availability and weather on both breeding and wintering grounds. Learn more at: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Rough-legged_Hawk Photo: Rough-legged Hawk on the Samish Flats by Joe Halton