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Ferruginous Hawk


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Found in prairies, deserts, and open range of the West, the regal Ferruginous Hawk hunts from a lone tree, rock outcrop, or from high in the sky. This largest of North American hawks really is regal—its species name is regalis—with a unique gray head, rich, rusty (ferruginous) shoulders and legs, and gleaming white underparts. A rarer dark-morph is reddish-chocolate in color. Ferruginous Hawks eat a diet of small mammals, sometimes standing above prairie dog or ground squirrel burrows to wait for prey to emerge.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Ferruginous Hawks are large Buteo hawks with relatively long wings and large heads. The wings narrow to form more pointed tips than is typical for other buteos.

  • Color Pattern

    Light-morph Ferruginous Hawks have strikingly white underparts and rusty legs that form a V when the bird is soaring. They have rusty upperparts with pale heads. Immature light morphs have varying amounts of brown spotting on the belly and legs. Rarer dark-morph individuals are mostly a deep rufous-chocolate. White bases to the primary feathers form white panels in the outer wing.

  • Behavior

    Ferruginous Hawks soar with their wings held slightly raised but with the wingtips held almost flat. They also turn into the wind and hover or kite in place as they hunt. They often hunt on the ground as well.

  • Habitat

    Ferruginous Hawks live in the open spaces of the West, in grasslands, prairie, sagebrush steppe, scrubland, and pinyon-juniper woodland edges.

Range Map Help

Ferruginous Hawk Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

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.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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