Ferruginous Hawks

Driving through the Plum Creek Valley (south of Denver) this afternoon, I encountered several ferruginous hawks.  These large buteos, though named for their reddish shoulders, back and feathered legs, are perhaps best identified by their size, their long, pointed wings and by the light coloration of their chest, abdomen and under-wings.

Often hunting from the air, soaring or hovering above potential prey, ferruginous hawks also use perches (poles, trees, rock outcrops) and may stalk prey directly on the ground, staking out the burrows of prairie dogs and ground squirrels.  Their bulky nests are generally placed in solitary trees or on rock ledges in open country; 2-4 eggs are usually produced.

Ferruginous hawks are permanent residents in Colorado and throughout most of the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, favoring semiarid plains, sage grasslands and open woodlands of pinon pine.  Rabbits, ground squirrels and prairie dogs are their primary prey but they consume a wide variety of small mammals and sometimes kill snakes and game birds.  North of Colorado, ferruginous hawks are primarily summer residents while wintering individuals may be found across the Desert Southwest and southern High Plains.