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Rough-legged Hawk


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Rough-legged Hawk spends the summer capturing lemmings on the arctic tundra, tending a cliffside nest under a sun that never sets. Winter is the time to see this large, open-country hawk in southern Canada and the U.S., where it may be perched on a pole or hovering over a marsh or pasture on the hunt for small rodents. Found globally across northern latitudes, this species occurs in both light and dark forms.


  • Alarm call and adult scream of a Rough-legged Hawk. Recorded in Manitoba, Canada by Arthur A. Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg. Sound and spectrogram courtesy of Macaulay Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (LNS #4301).
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

When nesting adults are alarmed they give a loud, catlike mew that lasts about 1 second, repeated every 15–30 seconds. They call while flying or perched. Courting birds give a whistle that tapers off into a hiss.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Because Rough-legged Hawks breed in the arctic, your best bet for finding one near you is to wait until winter. Keep an eye out in open country, looking especially for a large, chunky raptor hovering while facing into the wind—similar in style to the much smaller and daintier American Kestrel and White-tailed Kite. Rough-legged Hawks perch on fence posts and utility poles, as well as on the ground or in the slenderest treetops, where other large raptors rarely chance sitting. Watch for them on winter road trips, as their bold tail and underwing pattern, as well as black belly patches, can often be clearly seen even at highway speeds.

You Might Also Like

eBird Occurrence Maps, Rough-legged Hawk.

Raptors of Winter, All About Birds, January 12, 2015.

Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.

ID Tips for Raptor-Watching Season: Use Tail and Wing Shape, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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