The nocturnal Rough-legged hawk

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Story & Photograph By Horace Brown

I have seen the Rough-legged Hawk locally many times in the winter. Even though it is 21 inches long, has a wingspan that is 53 inches wide and weighs 2.2 pounds, they have small feet.

So whenever I see a large hawk sitting high in a tree on a very small branch, I give this bird special attention with my binoculars and quite often it will be a Rough-legged Hawk that has migrated down from the North Country. They also tend to hover a lot while hunting.

It is also the most nocturnal of hawks and might even be seen on moon lit nights. They breed across arctic North America and winter from south Canada southward to central Kentucky and southern Texas.

This hawk has a long white tail with a dark band and a small beak to go with small feet and also some of them may be a dark brown morph. The food is primarily small rodents and their alarm call is a loud screech or squeal.

Their nest is placed at the high point of a rock outcrop, cliff ledge, stream bank, or boulder where it commands a good view of the surrounding country or in the top of the tallest tree 20 to 30 feet above ground. The same site is used repeatedly and a large mass of sticks accumulate. The nest is generally lined with bunches of grass and moss.

In normal years the female lays three to four greenish white eggs with brown markings. When their food mammals are plentiful then five to six eggs are common.

So get out and about in the winter and search for a large hawk sitting high in the top of a tree on a very small branch and usually that will be a Rough-legged Hawk that has migrated all the way down from the Arctic Tundra in the great outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2016 Bitterns, Cranes, Egrets, Herons and a Stork calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.