Red-tailed Hawks have shorter, broader wings than Ferruginous Hawks, and usually have heavy barring in a “belly band” across their underparts. They also usually have a black bar on the underwing between the shoulder and the wrist (the patagium), and fairly dark heads—all marks that Ferruginous Hawks lack. Light-morph Swainson’s Hawks have dark flight feathers creating a strong light-dark pattern on the underwing, along with a dark head and chest, whereas light-morph Ferruginous Hawks are almost all white below with rusty legs and limited spotting on the underwing. Dark-morph buteos of various species including Rough-legged Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk can be difficult to distinguish from dark-morph Ferruginous Hawks, which are best identified by their relatively long, somewhat pointed wings, slight uptilt or dihedral to their wings, and pale panels in the outer wings. Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a more pronounced “V” or dihederal and are more wobbly when soaring than Ferruginous Hawks. Vultures have longer tails, strongly “fingered” wingtips, and much smaller heads that at close range are unfeathered and pinkish-red.
Find This Bird
Look for Ferruginous Hawks in the open country of the West, where they may be just a speck soaring high in the sky—albeit a brilliantly white speck, as light-morph Ferruginous Hawks are strikingly pale and distinctive. These birds also perch on telephone poles and also on the ground, where they can be hard to spot. In these wide open spaces, learning to tell their shape at long distances is key to finding them: look for their long, relatively narrow and somewhat pointed wings, much different from a Red-tailed Hawk’s silhouette. Also note their tendency to fly with their wings in a dihedral V shape—slightly raised above the horizontal.