Dalton is a female Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) who was
brought to us in March of 2003 after sustaining gunshot wounds to her right
wing. Part of her wing was removed by the individual who found her as
it was barley attached any longer. She lost her primary feathers and
can no longer fly. Dalton was DNA-sexed and we discovered that she was
not male as we had originally thought. Even though her name may be
confusing, we will keep her name as Dalton.
Rough-legged Hawks are so named because their legs are feathered down to
their feet, whereas most hawks have bare legs. This feathering is
thought to be an adaptation to cold environments. In the winter, they
will migrate down from Alaska and Canada into Washington and other areas of
the northern United States. They are similar in size to the Red-tailed
Hawks but their coloring is more varied ranging from very light to almost
black. Most birds have a light head and chest and a white tail with a
dark terminal band. Black wrist patches make them easy to identify in
flight. About 10 % of the Rough-legged Hawk population are dark
(called dark morphs). They can still be identified by their tail.
It is thought by some that male and female Rough-legged Hawks can be
identified by appearance (known as “sexual dimorphism”). The idea is
that males wear a single broad band on their tail (with some males having
small bands too), and the females have multiple broad bands on their tails.
Rough-legged Hawks are considered soaring hawks, or Buteos, and
they will hunt by hovering or circling over open fields or tundra, or from
tall perches like telephone poles or snags. Their diets primarily consist of
lemmings when in their northern habitat, but they will also eat other small
rodents and birds. Their feet are quite small when compared to those
of Red-tailed Hawks which indicates that they are adapted to smaller prey.