The Rough-legged Hawk is so named because of the feathering that
extends down the legs to the base of the toes, an adaptation to the cold
environments this species prefers. A true cold-weather hawk, they are only
seen in South Dakota in the winter or during migration. Rough-legged Hawks
are one of the few
large hawks that often hunts by hovering. They are also unique
for big Buteo raptors in that they can sometimes perch on very thin branches at
the tops of trees.
on the edge of the treeline to the tundra near the Arctic. Prefers open
country during the winter, such as prairie, open farmland, and desert scrub.
Diet: Primarily rodents, especially lemmings and voles on its
summer breeding grounds in the far North. Will also feed on other rodents
(mice, rats, ground squirrels), as well as birds, insects, small lizards, and
frogs. Will also feed on carrion.
Behavior: Often easily distinguished from other
large Buteos due to its hunting behavior, as they will often hover over open
ground looking for prey. Also will hunt by observing from a perch.
Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota
Song: Generally quiet
during the winter in South Dakota. On breeding grounds, will make a clear descending kyeeer
Migration: Summers in the extreme northern part of North America. Winters throughout
much of the northern 2/3rds of the United States.
Conservation Status: Numbers generally stable, although the
population fluctuates with changing lemming and vole populations in the
South Dakota "Hotspot: The Fort Pierre National
Grasslands south of Pierre are normally full of Rough-legged Hawks in the
winter. It's not unusual to come across a few dozen driving through on
a winter day.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Rough-legged Hawk
eNature.com - Rough-legged Hawk
Photo Information: November 27th, 2010 -
Near Presho in Lyman County, South
Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Rough-legged hawk photos.