Rough-Legged Hawks

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It’s not often that I get to see rough-legged hawks, so it’s always quite a treat. As far as local hawks go, I think they have pretty cute faces and some very interesting behaviours. It was also special to see one landed for an extended period of time — typically when I have seen them they are hovering in the air, and only land for a quick rest before they’re back at it.

Quick Facts:

Latin Name: Buteo lagopus
Size: 18.5 – 20.5 (47-52 cm) length, with a wingspan of 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
Lifespan: Up to 18 years is possible, but 1.7 years is average in the wild

Finding A Rough-Legged Hawk

In my corner of the world, I only see rough-legged hawks in the open grassland areas of the Boundary Bay Dyke. Their preferred habitat includes tundra, arctic coasts, open fields, plains, marshes, dunes, and farmlands.

Their range covers most of Canada and the United States, with a breeding area in the North, migration throughout most of Canada, and their nonbreeding area covering the very southern portion of Canada and in the United States

Look for them hovering in the sky in one spot, as well as perched on posts and in the trees.

Rough-Legged Hawk


Rough-legged hawks primarily eat rodents, such as lemmings and voles. During the winter when they move down south, they will also feast on squirrels, mice, and the occasional birds and frogs.

In a study, it appeared that rough-legged hawks are able to track their prey by seeing the urine, which is more visible in ultraviolet light. The hawks hunted more in areas sprayed with vole urine than areas that were not sprayed.


At the moment, rough-legged hawks are designated as least concern, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to keep them safe.

The main threats these hawks face include people shooting them, collisions with vehicles and powerlines, and loss of habitat.

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk Gallery


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