Living Bird Magazine
Ferruginous HawkButeo regalis
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Aguililla Real (Spanish)
- Buse rouilleuse (French)
- Cool Facts
- In winter, groups of 5-10 Ferruginous Hawks congregate in prairie dog towns, striking prey when it emerges. They threaten each other by hopping and flapping their wings, creating a feeding frenzy that may attract more Ferruginous Hawks, along with Golden and Bald Eagles.
- When bison still roamed the west, Ferruginous Hawk nests contained bison bones and hair along with sticks and twigs.
- The bulky sticks of their nests are not easily woven together for tree nesting, so they often build on the remains of pre-existing hawk or crow nests. Conservation managers can take advantage of this, providing artificial nests to help boost populations.
- Ferruginous Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks (plus the Golden Eagle) are the only American hawks to have feathered legs all the way down to their toes.
- Ferruginous means rust-colored, and refers to the reddish back and legs of light-morph birds (which are more common than dark morphs).
- Rivaling the massive Ferruginous Hawk in size is the Upland Buzzard of central Asia, which may be a close relative from the days of the Alaska-Siberia land bridge. Ferruginous Hawk fossils are found across the west and date back to the late Pleistocene.
- The oldest Ferruginous Hawk on record was at least 23 years, 8 months old when it was found in Nevada in 2006. It had been banded in the same state in 1982.