A large (19-24 inches), dark bird, the Rough-legged Hawk may be best identified by its grayish-brown back, light face, and by the black band on the end of its broad, white tail. Seen from above, this hawk may also be identified by dark belly, black-tipped wings, and dark “wrist” patches. A dark morph also exists that is darker brown above and on the wings but retains this species’ basic color pattern. Like most species of raptors, females are larger than males. The Rough-legged Hawk is found across the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds in western Alaska and northern Canada east to Labrador. Rough-legged Hawks migrate south for the winter, when they may be found in southern Canada, Newfoundland, and in the United States south to New Mexico in the west and Virginia in the east. In the Old World, this species breeds in Scandinavia and arctic Russia, wintering south to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia. Rough-legged Hawks are birds of open country. In summer, this species breeds on tundra and on rocky sections of the arctic coastline. In winter, this species inhabits open grassland, fields, deserts, and marshes. Rough-legged Hawks eat small mammals, including lemmings, mice, and voles. Rough-legged Hawks soar over open habitat while scanning the ground for prey, dropping down to capture it with their talons. Due to this species’ habitat requirements and hunting technique, it may be easiest to observe Rough-legged Hawks in the air. In winter, may also be seen roosting at dusk in trees near feeding grounds. This species is primarily active during the day.
Uncommon winter visitor and migrant, late October to mid-April. Seen mostly in over grown fields and open agricultural areas. Birds in the dark phase predominate in this area. Females are larger than males.