Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Jim Parrish
Photo Copyright Jim Parrish

The rough-legged hawk, Buteo lagopus, breeds in northern Canada and Alaska, and migrates south to winter across the United States. On its northern breeding grounds, it is found on tundra, mountain sides, and open forests. During the winter, this species is usually found in grasslands, fields, marshes, sagebrush flats, and other open habitats. In Utah, this bird is found only during the winter, but it is a fairly common in the state during that period.

The rough-legged hawk feeds primarily on rodents, especially voles and lemmings. Occasionally its diet includes birds, insects, and carrion. Pairs are monogamous, and may use the same nest in successive years. Nests are sometimes constructed on the ground, but usually in trees, on cliffs, or on man-made structures. Eggs are laid in May and June. The number of eggs laid fluctuates in relation to prey density; usually two or three eggs are laid, but as many as seven may be laid when rodents are abundant. Incubation is done mainly by the female and lasts 28 to 31 days. Young are tended by both parents, and are able to fly after about five to six weeks. These birds do not breed until they reach two years of age.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Baicich, P. J., and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American Birds, Second Ed. Academic Press, San Diego. 347 pp.