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Common name: Ferruginous hawk

Scientific name: Buteo regalis

Other names: Prairie eagle, gopher hawk, ferruginous rough-legged hawk

Identification: Largest of the buteo (broad-winged) hawks. Long tapered wings, large head, robust chest, females larger than males, 20-26 inches (51-66 cm) long, wingspan 53-60 inches (135-152 cm) and weighs 2.2-4.5 lbs. (1-2 kg). One of only two hawks with legs feathered down to toes (rough-legged hawk is the other). Light and dark (rarer) morph phases. In flight the legs look like a “V” against the underbelly.

Habitat: Grasslands and open prairie.

Food: Prairie dogs, ground squirrels, rabbits, other small mammals and birds. In early mornings ferruginous hawks are sometimes seen sitting on the ground near a prairie dog burrow, waiting for a prairie dog to emerge.

Reproduction: Large nests built from sticks are constructed in small trees, rock outcroppings, on the ground or occasionally in haystacks. Nests sometimes become large enough to topple the small trees they are perched in. Breeding occurs in the spring. Ferruginous hawks lay 3-4 eggs and then incubate for 32-33 days. Young hawks fledge at 5 ½ -6 weeks and are ready to breed at 2 years old. Nesting success is dependent on the food source.

Behavior: Ferruginous hawks are often seen hunting by flying low to ground, soaring, hovering or swooping. They can range over 50 square miles (80 km2). In winter they shift south to the southern Great Plains and Mexico. During courtship both sexes soar in a circular pattern at high altitudes and the male dives and ascends in a sky dance accompanied by loud vocalizations. The pair may grasp beaks, interlocking talons while spiraling toward the ground.

Conservation status: Populations estimated to have decreased by 75% since the 1800’s. Now they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and common in some areas of range. Overall though, ferruginous hawks have still been declining because their prey base has been shrinking. Listed as threatened in Canada under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).


Recommended resources:

Raptors of North America: Natural History and Conservation by Noel & Helen Snyder. 2006. Voyageur Press.