Ferruginous hawks are the largest buteo hawks in North America. Ferruginous means rust-colored, which you can see on their back and the tops of their wings. That, along with their size and their snow-white chest, makes them fairly easy to recognize. They also have a black streak across their eyes. They are also one of only two hawk species in the U.S. with feathers going all the way down their legs like an eagle. The other hawk with feathers all the way to the talons is the rough-legged hawk.
Ferruginous hawks have wingspans of up to five feet and can weigh nearly five pounds. Their species name, regalis, means regal, which definitely fits.
Ferruginous Hawks in this ecosystem
Ferruginous hawks are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, though many of our ecosystem’s ferruginous hawks don’t migrate far, typically heading toward Colorado, Arizona, or New Mexico.
In the wild, ferruginous hawks eat mostly jackrabbits, but also consume gophers, cottontails, mice, other rodents, and small birds. In the winter, groups of ferruginous hawks will sometimes gather in prairie dog towns, flapping about and grabbing the prairie dogs when they emerge.
At the Sanctuary, we feed a variety of small animals, principally rodents.
BEHAVIOR & Lifespan
Ferruginous hawks tend to soar high and use high perches when hunting, but they will also sometimes stand on the ground. They have a reputation among falconers as being aggressive and hard to handle.
Our Ferruginous Hawk
These birds are kept at our facility with permission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under Migratory Bird Permit #MB026859-2.