Nature Times Spotlight: Can you guess what the name of this winter guest is?

Good news, bird lovers! Not all birds are leaving New York for the winter. This beautiful bird, the Rough-legged hawk or roughy, spends its summers in the Arctic tundra, but when winter comes along he or she takes up residence in Southern Canada and the Northern United States, including New York State. So this winter you might see them circling high above or sitting at the highest point on a tree scanning an open grassy field for a bite to eat. These birds prefer to hunt on open grasslands, farmland, and large open wetlands. This type of habitat is similar to the grassy tundra of their summer homes. State Parks you may see a Rough-legged hawk are Jones Beach State Park, Golden Hill State Park, Chimney Bluffs State Park, Point au Roche State Park, and Clermont State Historic Site.  Other northern visitors that you may encounter while looking for roughys are Snow buntings and Short-eared owls – they also prefer the same type of open land to find food.

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Rougy in flight – notice the dark feathers in the middle of the wings and the white feathers on the chest. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service

Some characteristics to look for when identifying a Rough-legged hawk are the dark patches at the bend of the wing and a dark bellyband and a white bib around the throat (and no red tail like one of its cousins). There are light and dark color varieties of this species, so a bird book should always be on hand when searching for this and other bird of prey!

Roughys search for food from utility poles or while hovering over the ground.  They use their powerful eyesight to spot small mammals like mice and voles far below in grassy fields. Then they swoop down to catch the food in their talons.

Don’t be surprised if you look up and see one (or two) of these high flyers in the next few months.

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Rough-legged hawk in flight, photo by Tom Koerner, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Post by Greta Alvarado, State Parks

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