Rough-Legged Hawks are Winter Residents

by Pat Jaquith

Rough-legged hawk profile 9.10.

It’s fall already; raptor fans have been counting the migrating raptors at various mountain top sites for a few weeks, and I’m already noticing fewer soaring birds in the West Valley. Any day we may see Rough-legged Hawks that have migrated thousands of miles to call this home for the winter.

Rough-legged Hawks’ fluffy plumage, leg feathers, small feet and bill are adaptations to Arctic life. They hunt small rodents, so we see them perched on power poles, sign posts, or soaring over the big fields through the winter.

Rough-legged Hawk hunting from power pole
Mature Rough-legged Hawk soaring

Mature “Roughies” have dark band on their tail. The black patches on belly and wrists are typical and make it easy to identify them from below.

Rough-legged Hawk kiting

When they are hunting from the air, you may see them “kiting”, seeming to hang motionless in the sky with legs dangling. Their next move is often a dive after they’ve located something that looks like their next meal.

Rough-legged Hawk on the wing

Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center is a volunteer-run, donation-funded facility where injured raptors are in recovery or in residence if too badly injured to survive on their own. They do educational events at various locations; I took the portrait at the top of this journal at one such showing. Look them up – you can visit their facility and see some of the raptors.

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