Featured Sanctuary Bird: Rough-legged hawk

Photo by Max Rae, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Max Rae, via Flickr Creative Commons

This week's featured sanctuary bird is the rough-legged hawk. Rough-legs are one of the few raptors with feathered legs! They are well-adapted to breeding on the tundra and wintering in open grassland areas in the United States. This large hawk, is one of the few raptors that frequently hovers in place while in the sky, watching for movement of their prey on the ground below.  

These large hawks have small feet, and come in both light and dark color phases. When in flight, black knuckle patches can be seen under the wings making the patches good field field identification marks for light phase birds. Ideal hunting conditions for rough-legged hawks are grasslands with less than a foot of snow and high populations of small mammals such as meadow voles.

Where can you catch a glimpse of this regal raptor? Four rough-legs were found at or near Goose Pond Sanctuary on the recent Poynette Christmas Bird Count. The sanctuary's open grasslands are ideal habitat for this hawk. Visitors are always welcome! The Lapinski-Kitze Prairie (at the intersection of Kampen and Goose Pond Road) is an excellent place to look for these common “open country” winter raptors.

To learn more about wildlife at Goose Pond, contact resident managers Mark and Sue Foote-Martin at goosep@madisonaudubon.org, or 608-635-4160.