The Buteo that hovers – the Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk launching into flight

Rough-legged Hawk launching into flight

As sightings of Rough-legged Hawks become fewer and further between, I have been reviewing this past winter’s images, and I notice a series of images of hawk hovering. Rough-legged Hawks are our only buteo that regularly hovers. In fact, the only other North American raptors that regularly hover are the Osprey and the collective kites. Hovering is defined as remain stationary in flight while continually flapping the wings. During hovering, the entire lift is generated by the action of the wings. Other raptors, including Red-tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles, can wind stall, which is remaining steady in the air by using an oncoming wind to compensate for the stall speed. Hovering requires a great deal of energy expenditure, and, even so, they have been known to hover for hours as they scan below them in search of a hapless prey. Their legs may be extended as they hover. For now, I will have to wait until next winter, when I will scan across some open field and see a silhouetted form flying without progress, a hovering Rough-legged Hawk.

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 1

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 1

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 2

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 2

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 3

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 3

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 4

Rough-legged Hawk hover flight pattern 4

The best book on raptor flight that I have found is Hawks at a Distance by Jerry Liguori. You see my review of this great text at http://www.radleyice.com/2011/09/review-hawks-at-a-distance/

Written by Radd Icenoggle

I am a native Montanan, who has spent a lifetime as an outdoors and wildlife enthusiast. I earned a degree in biology with an emphasis on habitat relations. During my studies, I had the great fortune to research and compose a thesis that explored the effects of slope aspect on...
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