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Rough-legged Buzzard

From Opus

Alternative name: Rough-legged Hawk, Roughleg

B. l. lagopusPhoto © by Cristian MihaiTunari, Romania; 3 January 2013
B. l. lagopus
Photo © by Cristian Mihai
Tunari, Romania; 3 January 2013
Buteo lagopus


[edit] Identification

B. l. kamtschatkensisPhoto © by stoop   Fukushimagata, Niigata, Japan,  23 January 2008
B. l. kamtschatkensis
Photo © by stoop
Fukushimagata, Niigata, Japan, 23 January 2008

53-63cm (20¾-24¾ in). Wings long and broad. Light brown to dappled white upperparts; paler, streaked head, brown-spotted white breast, and dark belly band. The legs are fully feathered. Wings are mostly pale below but in typical birds have a dark square at the base of the hand and are dark-edged (sharply demarcated in adults, more diffuse in juveniles). Tail is white with one broad dark subterminal band and 0-5 additional narrow bands close the the subterminal band.

A dark morph occurs, mainly in the North American subspecies, where body and wing-coverts are completely dark but flight feathers and tail are quite typical, almost silvery white in this form. In all forms, a broad white uppertail is diagnostic (a narrow version of this can be seen in Common Buzzard) and usually, a pale base of primaries on the upperside of the wing.

[edit] Similar Species

Can be told from pale Common Buzzards and Red-tailed Hawk in flight by the whitish tail with the single dark bar at the end, the contrasting dark belly patch, and at close range, by the feathered ("rough") legs.

Is more inclined to hover than Common Buzzard, though that will also often do so. In Asia, pale phase Upland Buzzard can be similar, but lacks the dark tail band and belly patch.

[edit] Distribution

Breeds Arctic and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia, Alaska, and Canada; most if not all populations are migratory, wintering south of the breeding areas.
In Europe breed in Scandinavia through northern Russia, wintering mainly south of the Baltic Sea to the Balkans and east of that. Irregular winter visitor to the east coast of England, more rarey in eastern Scotland.
In North America breeds in the northern half of Canada, wintering mainly in the USA.

[edit] Taxonomy

B. l. sanctijohannisPhoto © by muskrat  North-eastern Pennsylvania, USA, January 2005
B. l. sanctijohannis
Photo © by muskrat
North-eastern Pennsylvania, USA, January 2005

[edit] Subspecies

Four subspecies are recognised[1], though some authors only accept three[2]:

  • B. l. lagopus
Breeds northern Europe, northwestern Asia, winters south to central Europe and central Asia. Light morph medium-toned; dark morph recorded but extremely rare.
  • B. l. menzbieri
Breeds northeastern Asia, winters south to southern China; included in B. l. kamtschatkensis by some authors. Very pale; dark morph not reported.
  • B. l. kamtschatkensis
Breeds Kamchatka, winters south to Japan. Very pale; dark morph not reported.
  • B. l. sanctijohannis
Breeds northern North America, winters south to central-south USA. Light morph medium-toned; dark morph frequent.

[edit] Habitat

Breeds on arctic and mountain tundra; winters mostly in wilder coastal areas, open prairies, farmland and marshes.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Flight

Hunts harrier-like low over the ground with frequent interludes of hovering. Glides with wings markedly angled at carpal joint.

[edit] Diet

B. l. sanctijohannis dark morph; photo © by Marcel GauthierSt-Armand, Quebec, Canada, 20 March 2005
B. l. sanctijohannis dark morph; photo © by Marcel Gauthier
St-Armand, Quebec, Canada, 20 March 2005

Its diet includes small mammals, mainly lemmings on the breeding grounds, and rabbits and voles on the wintering grounds.

[edit] Breeding

Nests on cliff ledges, trees, or on the ground in high tundra. Two to seven eggs are laid, incubation lasts 28-31 days and after a further 39-45 days, the young fledge.

[edit] Vocalisation

Quite loud cat-like mee-oo.

Listen in an external program

[edit] Movements

Complete long distance migrant. Irruptive in some winters when prey is scarce.

[edit] References

B. l. lagopus, juvenilePhoto © by birdimageOostvaardersplassen, Almere, Netherlands 10 December 2008
B. l. lagopus, juvenile
Photo © by birdimage
Oostvaardersplassen, Almere, Netherlands 10 December 2008
  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from
  2. MacKinnon, J., & Phillipps, K. (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford Univ. Press ISBN 0 19 854940 7
  3. Hayman, P. , Hume, R. (2002) Birdwatchers Pocket Guide to Britain and Europe, Mitchell Beazley ISBN 1-85732-804-3
  4. Fitter, R.S.R. & Richardson, R.A. (1966) Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds, HarperCollins ISBN 1-85152-026-0
  5. Peterson, RT, G Mountfort and PAD Hollom. 1993. Collins Field Guide – Birds of Britain and Europe, 5th Revised edition. London: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0002199001
  6. Bechard, M. J., T. R. Swem, J. Orta, P. F. D. Boesman, E.F.J. Garcia, and J. S. Marks (2020). Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  7. Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus. Downloaded from on 26 Mar. 2020
  8. Orta, J., Boesman, P., Garcia, E.F.J. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 26 March 2020).
  9. Wheeler, B.K. (2003) Raptors of Western North America. Princeton Univ. Press ISBN 0-69111-599-0
  10. Ligouori, J. (2005) Hawks from Every Angle. Princeton Univ. Press ISBN 0-69111-825-6

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