Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) are winter visitors here in Bighorn Canyon. Their wingspan is a little over four feet and they are usually 19” long. They have two distinct color phases and much individual variation. Some have an almost entirely dark body and some have only the lower part of the body dark with the upper part being distinctly lighter in contrast. The fan shaped, white tail has a dark, wide band across the end.
Their wings are long and broad. The wings have dark marks at the wrists. If a large bird of prey is hovering it is likely either an Osprey or a Rough-legged Hawk. This hawk’s feet are feathered to the toes which is an adaptation to its arctic home range. This is where it gets its scientific name (lagopus) meaning “hare-footed.”
From April to October, these hawks migrate to their breeding and nesting range in the far north tundra up to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. They also are found in northern Europe and Asia.
Sightings at Bighorn Canyon
Rough-legged hawks can be found in sagebrush and grasslands or perched in the cottonwood trees along Crooked Creek. The Rough-legged Hawk is a regular find for those that take part in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for Kane which covers a good sized section of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. New birders are always welcome to join the count.