Rough-legged hawk

Scientific name: Buteo lagopus

Characteristics: Related to red-tailed hawks, rough-leggeds have feathered legs, and a light and dark form, or morph. They average 21 inches in length and 53 inches in wingspan. In general, these birds have darker backs, a light-colored head and breast with some dark streaking, and a dark belly band. Adult males have a pale tail with multiblackish bands, while the adult female has a single thin brownish band near the tip of the tail. Juveniles have a broad black band near the tail base and a blackish belly that resembles a vest. The undersides of the wings have dark square patches, called carpal patches, near the wrist. A less common dark morph of this hawk has dark feathering on the body and across part of the undersides of the wings.

Breeding: Builds a stick nest on the ground, cliffs, hillsides or atop rocks in open country; uses trees where available. Lays two to seven eggs, depending upon the availability of prey. Eggs hatch in about a month.

Habitat: Found in open country, agricultural fields, marshy fields and the tundra.

Range: Winters in the west, central and northeastern U.S.; nests in arctic areas from Alaska to Eurasia. Winters in Central Oregon but leaves the area in the summer.

Food: Eats rodents, small mammals and birds.

Bird facts: Lagopus means “hare’s foot” and refers to the feathered legs and feet resembling those of a rabbit. Often seen standing on the ground or perched on power or fence poles. Generally quiet, they may make mewing squeals near their nests.

Current viewing: Agricultural fields, sagebrush and grasslands throughout Central Oregon.

— Damian Fagan is a volunteer with the East Cascades Audubon Society and a COCC Community Learning instructor. He can be reached at .

Sources: Oregon Department of Wildlife, David Sibley’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds” and