Ferruginous Hawk

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Is the Ferruginous Hawk right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Ferruginous Buzzard

Scientific name: Buteo regalis

The basics:
The largest North American buteo, the Ferruginous Hawk is a huge, impressive bird of the open plains of the west. While Frank L. Beebe's classic, A Falconry Manual, championed these birds as a safer alternative to working with golden eagles, they can still be difficult and dangerous, and no one recommends this species to the beginner.

As a bird of the open country, the Ferruginous Hawk will not enter forests even in pursuit of its quarry. They may nest in an isolated low tree that might look ridiculous for the size of the nest, or they may accept a manmade nesting platform provided to attract them to one's property.

The overwhelming majority of these huge buteos are light morphs, but dark birds are regularly encountered and can be spectacularly beautiful, especially the reddish ones. When seen from underneath, the heavily feathered rufous legs of the adult light morphs look like a V against the light belly – a noticeable field mark. Females can be much larger and heavier than males. The average weights below are from populations in the southwestern United States, but nothern birds can be even heavier.

Male: 1059 grams (37 oz.)
Female: 1231 grams (43 oz.)

Average size:
50 - 66 centimeters (20 - 26 in.)

25 - 30 years

Behavior / temperament:
While Ferruginous Hawks may attract the top-notch falconer seeking a challenge, they are considered to be extremely difficult to tame, and they demand a large area of open countryside if they are to hunt successfully. They can be a dangerous bird unafraid to attack a dog, another bird of prey, or even a strange person who has entered their territory.

A good Ferruginous Hawk pen, aviary, or mews should be as large as possible while providing shade from direct sunlight in the summer and protection from extremes of winter weather. A roof that completely covers the structure is stronger and offers more protection from high winds. However, keeping them entirely indoors is probably a bad idea, as they are watchful birds that seem to benefit from having an open mesh wall or walls that allow them to keep an eye on the outdoor scene. Like most birds of prey, they will enjoy some clean, shallow water for bathing.

The Ferruginous Hawk is a carnivore that needs to consume some whole prey in order to allow its digestive system to work properly. In the wild, it consumes ground squirrels during the breeding season and feeds a great deal of these colony animals to its growing young. When ground squirrels are hibernating, an interval of several months, they switch to chasing hares, supplemented by other prey. Therefore, successful breeders and falconers warn against the practice of only feeding one food, such as day old chicks or jack rabbits. A varied diet that includes chicks, rabbits, rodents, quail, and more is much healthier. They should be supplied with drinking water.

Written by Elaine Radford

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