In the winter of 2021, into 2022, a rare migrant from the Arctic appeared and made where I am in Missouri, its winter home, and “bird watchers” are taking notice.
Allow me to introduce you to, the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus.), A.K.A. Roughleg, or Rough-legged Buzzard.
What do they prey on? – Small rodents, mammals.
Average clutch size? – Three to four.
How much do they weigh? – 1.5-3 lb (715-1400 g.)
How long are they? – 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm.)
What are their main threats? – Habitat Loss.
What is their conservation status? – Least Concern.
Where you’ll find them? – Marshes, Croplands, Grasslands, Coastal Prairies, Tundra Escarpments, Arctic Coasts.
Locations? – Europe, North America, Russia.
They are part of the family Accipitridae, which includes 224 species of hawks, eagles, vultures, harriers, and kites.
A large Buteo, roughly the size of a red-tailed hawk, the rough-legged hawk is feathered down its legs and on the tops of its feet. It has a variety of color phases, from dark melanistic to light, although it never gets as light as a Krider’s red-tailed hawk. In all color phases there is a very dark band across the chest, and black patches on the underside of the wrist. A white patch at the base of the tail is a good field characteristic.
It was the weekend of the Super-Bowl – an enormously popular sporting event that takes place each year to determine the National Football League (NFL) champion. On a pre-determined Sunday in early February, millions of American football fans gather around televisions to watch a single game, and this one’s for all the marbles.
This is how the story goes; it was frigid outside, I had a migraine the night before and I really wanted to stay in. My good friend Bill and I had early morning plans, so I made some coffee, layered up, grabbed my camera gear, and drove out to a local birding hotspot; in recent days there were reports from various sites – a Rough-legged Hawk was observed. So, we rolled the ole dice and gave it a shot; we drove around the refuge area, hoping that we would have similar fortunes of those who visited the area prior to our arrival, and as luck would have it, there he/she was perched on an electrical pole, preening. We could not believe our eyes. He/she could care less for our presence. If this were any other raptor, we would have been greeted by tail feathers a.k.a. butt shots; exit stage right! Bill and I discussed how we were going to approach the scene and quickly arrived at using the cover of our vehicles and see how many glances we would be rewarded with, we hit the jackpot baby!
I followed the hawk from the light-pole.
Gradually gaining the required altitude, often face into the wind and hovers effortlessly in mid-air in a single spot for minutes at a time.
We had epic hover hunting (aka “kiting”) opportunities. What is hover hunting, you ask? The hawk has evolved to become an aerial specialist. Scanning for ultraviolet trails, assists the hawks in spotting concentrations of vole activity, by detecting the trails of their prey species’ fecal material and urine. It is the only raptor of this size, which employs this technique, a unique skillset used in it the often treeless -tundra prairie.
Watch as it soared effortlessly, then swiftly swooping down and snatching its prey.
Landing in a field, with rodent in beak, life and death continues. to quote Family Guy, “Damn Nature You Scary!”
I observed how the prey was handily dispatched, using only its curved beak and razor-sharp talons.
The only evidence of the deed was a blood-soaked beak.
I stopped pressing the shutter for a spell, to allow my eyes to process the cycle of life and death. To quote another movie, “If I like a moment, being me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay, in it.”
This hawk exhibited no fear, it likely viewed Bill and I, as odd beings with one large eye; given what we had our camera affixed on it. What happened next, had Bill and myself levitating.
With a full belly, the hawk took a few awkward steps, then lifted off to the heavens.
Well maybe that’s way too dramatic, back up to the perch it is. Oh, Oh wait, you almost had it!
Well kinda, I thought for certain that it was heading back to the perch, we witnessed the hawk land on a long-abandoned drum aerator, a mere 60 feet away from us.
We captured very intimate looks of this hawk, though it was only for a mere moment.
Bill really benefited from being camera ready, he captured the perfect lift-off from the drum aerator. I called his image the shot of the year. Check out Bill’s blog at http://www.ozarkbill.com
From that sequence, I managed to come away with a few high key images.
All in all, not a bad day, and imagine, I thought about staying in because I was not feeling well. Glad I put forth the effort because that was the last time the hawk was observed in the area; guess the wind had other plans.
Until the next adventure. If you would like to be updated when I post new blogs articles, please sign up for my email list @ my blog.
Thanks for stopping by!