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Ferruginous Hawk: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

The Ferruginous Hawk, a majestic bird of prey, soars through the skies of North America, commanding awe and respect with its formidable presence. Known as the largest of the North American hawks, it possesses a unique blend of beauty and strength, making it a fascinating subject for both ornithologists and nature enthusiasts alike.

This article serves as a comprehensive fact sheet, offering an in-depth exploration of the Ferruginous Hawk’s world, from its classification and physical characteristics to its habitat, behavior, and conservation status.

Whether you are a seasoned birdwatcher or simply curious about this remarkable raptor, this guide will unveil the mysteries and wonders of the Ferruginous Hawk.

The Ferruginous Hawk at a Glance


Class:Aves (Birds)
Species:B. regalis

Essential Information

Average Size:20-27 inches (51-69 cm); Wingspan: 4.5-5.5 feet (1.4-1.7 meters)
Average Weight:2-4.5 pounds (0.9-2 kg)
Average Lifespan:Up to 20 years in the wild
Geographical Range:North America, primarily in the western half of the U.S. and Canada
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) is a species within the Buteo genus, known for its variety of hawks found across the world. Currently, there are no recognized subspecies of the Ferruginous Hawk. This hawk stands as a unique species, characterized by its distinct features and behaviors that set it apart from other members of its genus.

Ferruginous Hawks are notable for their large size and the coloration of their feathers, which range from a rusty hue to a more classic brown and white mix. These birds of prey do not exhibit a wide variety of subspecies differentiation as some other birds do, but they do show some regional variations in color and size, which, however, have not been classified into distinct subspecies.

The lack of subspecies underlines the Ferruginous Hawk’s distinct position in the raptor community, as it maintains a consistent set of characteristics across its range.

Ferruginous Hawk


The Ferruginous Hawk is a striking bird, renowned for its size and robust build. It typically measures between 20 to 27 inches in length, with a wingspan ranging from 4.5 to 5.5 feet.

Weighing between 2 to 4.5 pounds, this hawk exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females generally being larger than males. The species is distinguished by its broad wings and a wide, rounded tail.

In terms of coloration, Ferruginous Hawks display a beautiful palette that includes rusty hues on their backs and shoulders, giving them their name (‘ferruginous’ meaning ‘rust-colored’).

Their underparts are typically light, ranging from white to cream, often with a distinctive rusty streak or spot pattern. The legs are feathered down to the toes, a feature unique among North American Buteo hawks.

Habitat and Distribution

Ferruginous Hawks are found primarily in the open landscapes of North America, particularly in the western United States and parts of Canada.

Their habitat preferences include grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas, where they can find ample hunting opportunities. These hawks avoid heavily forested regions, preferring open spaces that allow them to utilize their keen eyesight for hunting.

Geographically, their range extends from southern Canada through the western United States, with some migration into northern Mexico during the winter months.

These birds are highly adaptable and can often be found in altered landscapes, such as pastures or farmland, as long as their basic habitat requirements are met.

Ferruginous Hawk


Ferruginous Hawks are diurnal birds, active primarily during the day. They are known for their soaring flight, often seen circling high in the sky on thermals. When it comes to social structure, they are predominantly solitary, especially outside of the breeding season. However, during mating and nesting periods, they exhibit monogamous pair bonds.

In terms of communication, these hawks use a variety of vocalizations, especially during mating rituals and territorial displays. Their calls are typically high-pitched and piercing. They also use body language, such as soaring and diving displays, to communicate with one another.

Ferruginous Hawks are territorial birds, especially during the breeding season. They establish and defend territories, which are essential for nesting and hunting. Outside of breeding seasons, their territorial behavior is less pronounced, and they may be seen in more communal settings, especially in prime hunting areas or during migration.

These hawks are also notable for their hunting prowess. They primarily hunt from the air, using their keen eyesight to spot prey before swooping down to capture it.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Ferruginous Hawk is predominantly a carnivorous predator, with a diet that primarily consists of small to medium-sized mammals. Common prey items include ground squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits, and mice. They are also known to occasionally consume birds, reptiles, and insects, particularly when their preferred mammalian prey is scarce.

In terms of hunting and feeding behavior, these hawks employ a variety of techniques. They often hunt by soaring at great heights, using their acute vision to spot potential prey from above. Once a target is identified, they dive swiftly and powerfully to capture it.

Ferruginous Hawks are also known to hunt by perching on high vantage points, such as trees or poles, where they can survey the surrounding area for prey. Their large, powerful talons are perfectly adapted for grasping and killing prey, highlighting their prowess as skilled hunters.


As a large raptor, adult Ferruginous Hawks have few natural predators. However, their eggs and young are vulnerable to predation. Common predators of their nests include raccoons, snakes, and larger birds of prey, such as eagles and Great Horned Owls. These predators primarily pose a threat to eggs and nestlings when the adult hawks are absent from the nest.

To protect their offspring, Ferruginous Hawks exhibit strong defensive behaviors. They aggressively defend their nesting territory against potential threats, often engaging in aerial displays or direct attacks to deter predators.

Ferruginous Hawk

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Ferruginous Hawks are monogamous birds, often forming long-term pair bonds. Their breeding season typically begins in early spring. These hawks build large nests, usually in trees, but they can also nest on cliffs, rock outcrops, or even on the ground in areas where trees are scarce.

The female usually lays between 2 to 4 eggs per breeding season. The incubation period lasts about a month, during which both parents take turns incubating the eggs. After hatching, the nestlings are dependent on their parents for food and protection. The young hawks fledge approximately six weeks after hatching but may remain with or near their parents for an extended period before achieving full independence.

Parental care is a significant aspect of the Ferruginous Hawk’s reproductive strategy. Both parents are involved in providing food and protection to the young, ensuring a higher survival rate for their offspring. This level of parental investment is crucial for the species’ survival, particularly in regions where food resources or suitable nesting sites are limited.

Conservation and Threats

The Ferruginous Hawk is currently listed as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicating a stable population. However, they face several threats that could impact their numbers in the future. These include habitat loss due to agricultural expansion and urban development, collisions with vehicles and wind turbines, and secondary poisoning from rodenticides used in pest control.

Conservation efforts for the Ferruginous Hawk focus on habitat preservation and management. This includes maintaining open grasslands and prairies, which are crucial for their hunting and nesting.

In some areas, conservationists are working to establish protected regions and promote sustainable farming practices that are less disruptive to the hawk’s habitat. Additionally, monitoring programs are in place to track population trends and identify emerging threats.

Fun Facts

  1. The name ‘Ferruginous’ comes from the Latin word ‘ferrugo,’ meaning iron rust, referring to the rusty-red color of the hawk’s back and shoulders.
  2. Unlike many other hawk species, Ferruginous Hawks have feathered legs down to their toes, a feature they share with Golden Eagles.
  3. These hawks can spot a small rodent from a distance of more than a quarter-mile away, showcasing their incredible eyesight.
  4. During flight, Ferruginous Hawks can reach speeds of over 40 miles per hour, especially when diving to catch prey.
  5. They are known to use the same nesting sites for several years, sometimes even decades, adding new materials each breeding season.

Frequently Asked Questions

How large can Ferruginous Hawks get?

Ferruginous Hawks are the largest North American Buteo hawk, with a wingspan of up to 5.5 feet and a length of up to 27 inches.

Where can Ferruginous Hawks be found?

They are primarily found in the open landscapes of western North America, including grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas.

What do Ferruginous Hawks eat?

Their diet mainly consists of small to medium-sized mammals like ground squirrels and rabbits, although they will also eat birds, reptiles, and insects.

Are Ferruginous Hawks endangered?

Currently, they are classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, but they face threats from habitat loss and other human activities.

How do Ferruginous Hawks hunt?

They hunt by soaring high and using their keen eyesight to spot prey before diving down swiftly to capture it. They also hunt from perches, scanning the ground for movement.

Do Ferruginous Hawks migrate?

Some populations of Ferruginous Hawks are migratory, moving southward in the winter months, while others in more temperate regions may be year-round residents.

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