Spotlight On Ohio Birds

Rough-legged Hawk- Buteo lagopus

Family: Accipitridae

Order: Accipitriformes

Description:  19 24″ (48-61 cm) Wingspan 4′ 4″ (1.3 m) ADULT MALE Light morph has gray-brown upperparts and pale head. Underparts are pale but streaked heavily dark brown on breast, with dark feathers on flanks. In flight, from below, wings look pale except for dark carpal patch, tips, and trailing edge, while tail is white with broad, dark subterminal band; from above, tail is white with dark barring toward tip. Dark morph looks uniformly dark when perched; in flight, looks all dark from above, but from below, note whitish flight feathers (except for wingtips and trailing edge) and whitish tail with dark subterminal band. ADULT FEMALE Light morph is similar to male, but note dark belly patch and (in flight) more contrasting black and white pattern on tail and on underwings (except for streaked brown underwing coverts); from above, tail is white with broad black terminal band. Dark morph is similar to dark morph male, but plumage is browner; underwing coverts are noticeably paler than dark carpal patches. JUVENILE Light morph is similar to adult female, but in flight note cleaner, paler underwing coverts and gray (not black) subterminal band on tail seen from below; from above, wing coverts and inner primaries are paler than rest of upper wing. Dark morph is similar to dark morph female, but with paler subterminal band on tail underside.

Voice:  Call a drawn-out, downward “kaaaar.”

Habitat: Breeds across Arctic North America; winters from southern Canada southward when widespread, but seldom numerous in open country including farmland; prefers marshes and open tundra.

Nesting: Large bowl of sticks on cliff ledge. Lined with grasses, sedges, small twigs, and greenery. 1-7 eggs that are dingy white with brown blotches.



  • The nest of the Rough-legged Hawk sometimes contains the bones of caribou along with sticks.
  • The name “Rough-legged” Hawk refers to the feathered legs. The Rough-legged Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Golden Eagle are the only American hawks to have legs feathered all the way to the toes.

Resource material provided by:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/

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