Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Arctic Wild Neighbors: Rough-legged hawk

Jesus' concept of neighbor and God's gift of biodiversity continue to inspire me, and so it seems that there is only one reasonable course of action for the BestLifeCommunity blog at this time. Winter has come, as the frigid north encroaches upon the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania. To the untrained eye this wind-swept-snow-covered landscape might seem void of life. But that is far from the truth.

Over the course of the next ten days leading up to the first Creek and Canyon Winter Wildlife Tour on December 21st, a different Arctic Wild Neighbor will be highlighted on the BestLifeCommunity blog each day.

By Arctic Wild Neighbor, I mean species who breed in the Arctic Circle in Spring and Summer and fly south to Pennsylvania for the winter. Geographically the Arctic Circle includes parts of Alaska and Northern Canada north of Kotzebue Sound in the West and just north of Hudson Bay in the east.

Rough-legged hawk, light phase.
First up is the ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK. The rough-legged hawk is a bird that can be found hovering over wide open fields as it hunts for small mammals such as voles, mice, and other small mammals.

Rough-legged hawk, dark phase.
This well-adapted raptor can be distinguished from the more common red-tailed hawk by its distinct dark tail band and dark patches at the wrist as well as a dark belly-band. Also look for its telltale "rough legs" that are covered in feathers that extend to the feet. Plumage is variable as this species produces a light phased plumage (mottled white and brown face, belly, and underwings) and a dark phased plumage (dark brown face, belly, and underwings).

Most winters there is a population of rough-legged hawks that winter in Tioga County in open fields a few miles every direction from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

Last week my friend Gary and I located our first rough-legged hawk of the winter about 4 miles to the south-east of Wellsboro.

Rough-legged hawk, dark phase.
They sure are a joy to observe. If you're hoping to get your own sighting of a rough-legged hawk during its seasonal visit I recommend going for a drive along roads adjacent to open farm fields where there is nothing but short grass or stubble. Look for rough-legged hawks hovering or perched on telephone poles or on the small upper or side branches of trees overlooking those open spaces. Bring binoculars for a closer look.

And finally, here is a link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's global database of bird observations. This particular link shows rough-legged hawk sightings during this calendar year, with recent sightings dotted with red as you zoom in closer.

Rough-legged hawk, light phase, with a rodent in tow.

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