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