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The Rough-legged Hawk

By Harry Fuller, Klamath Bird Observatory Board President

rlhaThe Rough-legged Hawk is the signature species of Klamath Basin in winter. It’s not as large as either eagle, not as abundant as Red-tailed Hawks, not as singular in flight path as the Northern Harrier, slower than either Prairie Falcon or Peregrine, it doesn’t form eye-catching monotone drifts like Tundra Swans, nor is it as loud as thousands of squabbling Mallards and Wigeon.

Nonetheless, this migrant down from its Arctic tundra breeding grounds is the species we birders speak of in awe. In the early fall it is a game to see when the first wave of Rough-legs arrives in the Klamath Basin. How many did you see when you went through the Basin? Were there dark morphs? Did you see a dozen Rough-legs in a single field?

Despite its size, the Rough-leg lives primarily on small mammals. In the Arctic that means many lemmings throughout the summer. In southern Oregon it may mean ground squirrels and voles.