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Ferruginous Hawk Identification

The ‘typical’ light morph plumage of the Ferruginous Hawk is very white below with a light colored head.  The adult wear dark leggings and all Ferruginous Hawks are feathered to their feet.  In this image of the bird taking flight by Tony Thomas, it is somewhat difficult to see the large gape and the bright yellow cere.  Ferruginous Hawks are found only in the western United State and Canada, but some winter just south of the U.S. border on the remaining large prairie dog towns near Janos, Mexico.

In image #2, by Bonnie Long, when viewed from the back, the rusty-colored shoulder patches, pale head, and  tail that is whitish near the base and rusty near tip, make this bird easy to identify.

Image #3, by Tony Thomas, shows a Ferrug taking flight. Although it is difficult to pick up the rusty colored shoulder patches identify this as a Ferruginous Hawk.

Of course, Ferruginous Hawks, like many other buteos, come in distinct color morphs that I like to call “vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate”.  Image #4, by Tony Thomas, shows an all dark buteo.   This bird can be identified as a Ferruginous based on the tail color which is nearly white throughout and the large gape that extends t0 below the eye.

Sometimes, you just get lucky! These two Ferruginous Hawks are almost certainly a mated pair, as it would be very unusual for either to tolerate anyone other than their mate in such close proximity. In this image by Bonnie Long, you can easily see the size difference between the smaller male and larger female.

Many thanks to Tony Thomas and Bonnie Long for the use of their images.

No Responses to “Ferruginous Hawk Identification”

  1. Mike says:

    I’m not sure all NA buteos have 3 color morphs. I’ve not seen a dark morph red-shouldered hawk nor seen a photo or post about them. Another example: zone-tailed hawks – as far as I’m aware, they are only dark (no light or eurythristic morphs).

    • hai-admin says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you for your message! I returned to this post, originally written in 2012, and realized immediately that there are errors in that post, all of which have been corrected now. While many buteo hawks do have distinct color morphs, some species have 2 morphs, or 3, while others have only one.

      Again, thank you for bringing this to my attention!

      Gail Garber
      Executive Director

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