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Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) is one of three Buteos or "soaring hawks" that regularly breed in Alberta's grasslands. The species is currently listed as endangered under the Alberta Wildlife Act and, Canada-wide, is considered vulnerable by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC 1999).

The Ferruginous Hawk has a restricted prairie distribution, and compared to other prairie hawks and is frequently described as a hawk of the "open country". The species ranges exclusively within the Great Plains of North America, occupying flat rolling terrain in grassland or shrub-steppe regions. Ecoregions in which the Ferruginous Hawk can be found in Alberta include Dry Mixed-grass, Mixed-grass, Fescue and Aspen Parkland. Generally, the Ferruginous Hawk occurs in desert shrub and grassland regions, west and east of the Rocky Mountains. The Ferruginous Hawk nests where grazing is the dominant land use or where the open landscape is otherwise relatively wild.

Ferruginous Hawks are usually monogamous and have only one mate for one to several breeding seasons. There are no identified subspecies or races recognized. Major differences in appearance of individuals result from variation in plumage. A dark morph, which occurs in approximately 10% of individuals, appears black on belly, back and wings from a distance. This contrasts with the more common light morph, where feathers on back, legs and wings are a mix of rusty 'ferruginous' brown, gray and white. Both morphs have a grayish tail.

Throughout its range, the Ferruginous Hawk primarily relies on only two families of mammals for the majority of its food; Leporidae (rabbits and hares) and Sciuridae (ground squirrels and prairie dogs). In contrast to the desert-shrub ecosystems in the western United States, however, white-tailed Jack rabbits (Lous townsendii) have played a minor role in the diet of the Ferruginous Hawk in Alberta where the species likely has an overwhelming reliance on ground squirrel prey.

A Ferruginous Hawk nest.

A Ferruginous Hawk nest.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk