Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ferruginous Hawk

I think one of my favorite hawks is the Ferruginous Hawk.  The way the hawk flies, glides, and moves in general is rather interesting.  In some ways, this hawk reminds me more of an Eagle.  Some people will mistake this hawk for the Golden Eagle.
Here in Arizona, this bird is losing range due to mining and other disturbances within the land.  It is a particular hawk and unlike other hawks, if the lands are disturbed, it will not return back to the same spot.  It will completely leave altogether.  While the country has the Ferruginous Hawk listed as "Least Concern", here in Arizona, it is threatened.
The preferred habitat for Ferruginous Hawks are the arid and semiarid grassland regions of North America. The countryside is open, level, or rolling prairies; foothills or middle elevation plateaus largely devoid of trees; and cultivated shelterbelts or riparian corridors. Rock outcrops, shallow canyons, and gullies may characterize some habitats. These hawks avoid high elevations, forest interiors, narrow canyons, and cliff areas.
The flight of the Ferruginous Hawk is active, with slow wing beats much like that of a small eagle. Soaring with the wings held in a strong dihedral has been noted, as well as gliding with the wings held flat, or in a modified dihedral. Hovering and low cruising over the ground are also used as hunting techniques. The wing beat has been described as "fluid" by some observers. See the pics below....
The Ferruginous Hawk primarily hunts small to medium-sized mammals but will also take birds, reptiles, and some insects. Mammals generally comprise 80 to 90 percent of the prey items or biomass in the diet with birds being the next most common mass component. The diet varies somewhat geographically, depending upon the distribution of prey species, but where the range of the Ferruginous Hawk overlaps, the black-tailed jackrabbit is a major food species along with ground squirrels and pocket gophers. Depending upon the relative abundance of jackrabbits and ground squirrels, the latter could become the major food source. The white-tailed jackrabbit are occasionally prey and weigh about twice as much as a Ferruginous Hawk.
These birds search for prey while flying over open country or from a perch. They may also wait in ambush outside the prey's burrow. Hunting may occur at any time of the day depending upon the activity patterns of the major prey species. A bimodal pattern of early morning and late afternoon hunting may be common. The hunting tactics can be grouped into seven basic strategies.
Perch and Wait – perching is on any elevated natural or man-made site

Ground Perching – the hawk will stand on the ground at a rodent burrow after initially locating it from the air. As the burrowing animal reaches the surface, the hawk rises into the air and pounces upon it even while it is still underneath the loose earth.

Low-level Flight – birds will course over the landscape within a few yards of the ground and pursue in direct, low level chases, or they will hunt from 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 m) above the ground.

High-level Flight – birds will hunt while soaring, but the success rate is generally low.

Hovering – using quickened wing beats, often in times of increased winds, the birds will search the ground and drop on the prey.

Cooperative Hunting – mates have been known to assist each other.

Piracy – the Ferruginous Hawk has been observed gathering around a hunter shooting prairie dogs, and to claim shot "dogs" by flying to them and mantling over them.
In its "strike, kill, and consume" type of predation, the prey is seized with the feet and a series of blows may be meted out, including driving the rear talon into the body to puncture vital organs. Biting with the beak may also take place. Before bringing prey to the nest, the adults will often eat the head. At the nest, birds are plucked and mammals torn into pieces before being fed to the young. Food caching has been noted, but not generally near the nest.
At times the Ferruginous Hawk has been considered threatened, endangered, or of concern on various threatened species lists but recent population increases in local areas, coupled with conservation initiatives, have created some optimism about the bird's future. It was formerly classified as a Near Threatened species by the IUCN, but new research has confirmed that the Ferrugineous Hawk is common and widespread again. Consequently, it was downlisted to Least Concern status in 2008.
Declines are mostly due to loss of quality habitat. Although flexible in choosing a nest site and exhibiting a high reproductive potential, this bird's restriction to natural grasslands on the breeding grounds and specialized predation on mammals persecuted on rangelands may make conservation a continuous concern. Historically, the birds entirely disappeared from areas where agriculture displaced the natural flora and fauna; for example it was noted in 1916 that the species was "practically extinct" in San Mateo County, California. Studies have found that prairie dogs can be a main prey item for Ferruginous Hawks, linking them to the populations of prairie dog towns in the mid-west and southwestern United States, which have been declining in recent years. This bird may also be sensitive to the use of pesticides on farms; they are also frequently shot. Threats to the overall population include:

cultivation of native prairie grassland and subsequent habitat loss

tree invasion of northern grassland habitats

reductions in food supply due to agricultural pest management programs

shooting and human interference
Toxic chemicals have not been suggested as a significant threat to the Ferruginous Hawk. Management strategies must include the retention or reclamation of native grasslands for breeding as well as on the wintering grounds. Maintenance of high populations of prey species in wintering areas seems critical to the hawks' abilities to move onto the summer range in breeding condition. The integration of agricultural practices and policies into the management strategies is a crucial component of any overall scheme for conservation. The provision of nesting platforms has had positive effects and should be a part of local strategies. Public education and the elimination of persecution and human disturbance must be an important part of the overall conservation program. Source

More tomorrow.....


  1. I don't know how you are getting these shots, a lot of patience i presume, but they are gorgeous!
    What a beautiful bird in action!

    1. :) That's one way of putting it.....lots of patience and hours of going through pictures taken. But it has been good for me. The hiking and walking have gotten me into better shape and have made my doctor happy again:)

  2. Very nice pictures and good info....... this is again a nice post Chris.

    Greetings, Joop

  3. Awesome shots of the the beautiful Hawk.
    Great post.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. A magnificent predator and wonderful action shots!

  5. What a beautiful raptor! I would have thought it was a small eagle at first glance, too. I usually see small to medium sized raptors in our area although there are eagles near the Potomac. Smallish raptors have been known to dive bomb my shrubs to flush out the little birds. Deadly but incredible in flight!

  6. what a GORGEOUS bird!! wow!
    how sad to hear that they have been on the decline...hopefully the efforts taken will help to increase their population.

    thanks for the AMAZING shots you've taken...and all the information! very very cool.

  7. A beautiful bird and superb photos again. Really interesting post which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

  8. they sure are beautiful. love the heavy feathering on the legs.

  9. Absolutely wonderful. You know, I had a biology teacher in high school that quit to become a wildlife photographer and was quite successful at it. (hint) :-)

  10. Hi Chris, what wonderful photos of this magnificent bird! Such interesting information too, I am shocked that apart from the other problems they face they are also 'frequently shot', I am immensely saddened by that...

    I have enjoyed catching up with your Roadrunner, Mexican Jay and Northern Cardinal posts too. What an unusual looking bird the Roadrunner is and again lots of interesting facts about it. I love the head shots, you really can see the intelligence in their face.

    I'm so sorry I can't keep up with each individual post Chris and I very much appreciate your visits to my older posts, you are a lovely person :-)

  11. Chris, you're doing justice to some beautiful creatures with your photography. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Magnificent bird and you have caught the spirit of it with your beautiful photos.

  13. Lovely raptor, the Ferruginous Hawk is beautiful, and your photos, they're excellent.

  14. What a magnificent bird. Does look a bit like a Golden eagle. You captured some amazing images showing the flight. You do have patience.

  15. Passei para uma visitinha e para admirar suas fotografias.
    São lindas e me encantam.
    Boa Noite!

  16. Beautiful shots, especially the ones of the bird in flight. Very interesting to find out about its' hunting habits.

  17. Great photos and info,Chris, a wonderful but rather anxious making post to read. It's the old story. The needs of this hawk are in conflict with the needs of agriculture. Let's hope scientific research and negotiation works out a deal that will enable this hawk to survive and thrive. cheers, cat


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