To better serve site visitors, Government of Alberta ministry web content is being centralized on Webpages on this ministry site will be either relocated to or removed over the next few months. Messaging and redirects will help guide you to updated content during and after this transition. Scheduled completion date for this project is March 31, 2019. Thank you for your patience as we proceed with these changes.

Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

Rough-legged Hawk


  • The rough-legged hawk is a big hawk, about 53 centimetres (21 inches) long.


  • Can be identified by:
    • A wide black belly band
    • A broad dark band on the white tail
    • Black patches at the bend of the outstretched wing
  • The head and under-parts are a creamy white streaked with brownish black feathers and the back and wings are slightly darker.
  • The name "rough-legged" refers to the feathers which cover the legs to the base of the toes.
  • Like most hawks, a darkly coloured form of the rough-legged hawk also exists.
  • One of the most recognizable traits of this hawk is the way it hovers over one spot in search of food.
  • This hawk does not nest in Alberta but migrates through the province, to and from its nesting grounds in the Arctic.
  • Occasionally this bird spends the winter in parts of the province if the weather is mild, but most of these hawks migrate to the United States.
Natural History


  • Found in the open country.


  • Basic food for the rough-legged hawk includes:

    • Ground squirrels
    • Mice
    • Rabbits and other small game
  • Carrion is also eaten.
Reproduction and Growth
  • Nests are built in trees, on cliffs, or on the ground.
  • Moss is often used as a lining for the nest which contains two to five eggs.
Conservation and Management


The rough-legged hawk is classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the rough-legged hawk is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified as a non-game species.


Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014