Bird of the Month: Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous-Hawk-by-John-West

Ferruginous Hawk. Photo by John West.

By Lindy Gasta

Fueled by curiosity, and a desire to get the best vantage point for experiencing a sunset in the Aubrey Valley, you continue toward the top of Chino Point. No sooner are you out of your truck do you realize you’re not alone. Two hawks soar high above the juniper woodlands, pointed wings held in a slight V. Periodically, one descends expeditiously over the grassland, talons ready, exposing white crescent-shaped patches on the upper wing and a mostly white underside with rufous-mottled coverts.

Captivated and puzzled by the sheer size of this Buteo, you scramble to identify it before an irresistible feast draws it away. After 10 minutes, tired eyes, and a silent wish for a closer look, the raptor flies overhead, giving you the clues you need — rusty, “booted” legs and a noticeably extended gape. It has to be a Ferruginous Hawk.

Present in northern Arizona year-round, the Ferruginous Hawk is the largest of the soaring Buteos and can be found high above the plains of the American West searching for a small mammal, snake, or large insect to satisfy its appetite. Similar to other raptors, these hawks are heavily dependent on their prey base. For this bird, an unreliable food source means lowered nesting and fledgling success, leading some pairs to forego nesting all together. In order to secure a meal, these versatile predators have been observed hunting from perches, soaring overhead, pursuing its prey on foot, and even waiting near rodent dens for the emergence of an unsuspecting victim.

Like Osprey, these birds build large nests using a variety of natural and artificial materials. For these birds, nest sites are just as variable as the materials used to create them and have been found in trees, dirt mounds, and man-made structures such as windmills and telephone poles. Both sexes have identical plumage and share parental responsibility, thus if observed together at the nest, identification should be based on size; the females are larger.

As the winter months approach keep an eye out for this regal bird as its presence extends statewide.

*****

Lindy Gasta is a senior at Prescott College studying Conservation Biology. Prior to living in Prescott, she spent her years growing up in Michigan and had never seen a cactus (or any desert vegetation for that matter). She enjoys spending her free time exploring Merriam’s life zones.

Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.

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