Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus, is a circumpolar in Holarctic species, meaning they live around the world in the Arctic regions. 
The newest addition to our Education Department - Bella, a Rough-legged Hawk
The Rough-legged Hawk population is steadily declining in many areas, but is still considered fairly common.  They are in decline due to cultivation and dire degradation of habitat throughout their range. 

Rough-legged Hawks breed in the tundra and taiga habitats of  North America and Eurasia and are winter visitors to the lower 48 states.  They have small feet and toes compared to their body size.  This species eats primarily voles, lemmings and other small rodents--occasionally eating small birds.
As in most raptor species, female Rough-legged Hawks are larger than the males.  A wide variety of plumage patterns are exhibited in light vs. dark morphs, males vs. females and adults vs. juveniles. 
Here you can clearly see some of Bella's beautiful markings
The Rough-leged Hawk has two color phases, the light and the dark phase.  The female light-morph birds have a browner back and upper wings and a more heavily marked belly than the male, usually with a lighter band between the breast and the belly, and the undertail has a large, dark sub-terminal band.  Dark morph birds have a single dark band on the light undertail.

In flight, Rough-legged Hawks have long wings that flap slowly and have a dihedral silhouette (wings held at an angle and appearing to form a “V”).  In a glide they have a loose “W” shape similar to an Osprey’s.  The flapping of a Rough-legged Hawk reminds me of an owl in flight.  The Rough-legged Hawk also hovers over fields like a Kestrel, as they search the ground below for movement of prey.

World Bird Sanctuary’s newest education star is Bella, a female Rough-legged Hawk.  She came to us from a raptor center in Wisconsin.  She is blind in the right eye from being impaled by something prior to arriving at the Wisconsin raptor center.  Bella is a very gentle bird that has captured everyone’s heart.  She is a great addition to our education team.

Bella is a large female, weighing in at 2lbs 10oz, with an overall length of 22 inches and a wingspan of 56 inches.

Currently, we are working on getting her comfortable with entering and exiting a travel crate.  Once she is fine with the crate she will be traveling to programs with our Education Department staff to present education programs to the thousands of audience members who see our raptor education programs each year. 

Bella now resides at our Nature Center and can be seen from the large deck overlooking the Nature Center weathering area.  Bella is rather quiet, but is becoming more vocal as she settles in to her new surroundings. 
Bella is quickly becoming comfortable with WBS staff and routines
So far her two favorite things seem to be going outside and dinnertime.  She knows the routine, and gets excited when it’s time to go out for the morning.  The cooler it gets the happier she seems to be, since her kind are from cold climates.  Dinnertime is her other favorite time of day, and she gets very excited when it’s time to go inside to her nighttime quarters. She cannot wait for the staff member on duty to place her on her perch each evening, since she knows dinner comes next.

On your next visit to the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center be sure to look for this beautiful new resident.  The Sanctuary is open 363 days of the year from 8 am to 5 pm. 

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator

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