Dakota Raptors

Dakota Raptors


Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota

Northern Plains Raptor Quiz (answers are below)


1.  Which raptors have feathers on their legs down to their talons?

a.  Red-tailed hawk

b.  Rough-legged hawk

c.  Swainson's hawk

d.  American kestrel

e.  Ferruginous hawk


2.  Which raptors are known for their ability to hover in flight?

a.  Red-tailed hawk

b.  Rough-legged hawk

c.  Swainson's hawk

d.  American kestrel

e.  Ferruginous hawk


3.  Which raptor has one of the longest migrations from Argentina to North Dakota each spring?

a.  Red-tailed hawk

b.  Rough-legged hawk

c.  Swainson's hawk

d.  American kestrel

e.  Ferruginous hawk


4.  Which raptor in commonly referred to as the "chicken hawk"?

a.  Red-tailed hawk

b.  Rough-legged hawk

c.  Swainson's hawk

d.  American kestrel

e.  Ferruginous hawk


Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)


Red-tailed Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Red-tailed Hawk

LaMoure County North Dakota


Red-tailed Hawk with Mouse

Burleigh County North Dakota


Red-tailed Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Red-tailed Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Krider version of Red-tailed Hawk

Leaping Upward to Initiate Flight

Burleigh County North Dakota

The red-tailed hawk is a common and widespread hawk.  This hawk has a great variety of appearances and differs with geography.  There are five races of red-tails: western, eastern, Fuertes, Florida and Harlan's.  Western red-tails are found in the Pacific Northwest and the Eastern race extends to the northern Great Plains. 


The red-tailed hawk is frequently seen during the summer in the northern plains.  This hawk’s breeding range is largely in Canada but also includes Alaska, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and parts of New England and the eastern United States.  They winter in most of the United States except the northern plains states.  Commonly called a “chicken hawk”, the red-tailed hawk usually eats small mammals but also will attack birds and snakes.  You are most likely to see the “red-tail” on powerline posts, hay bales or occasionally on fence posts.  I have seen the hawk listen intently then pounce to the ground and come up with an unfortunate mouse. 


The estimated population of red-tails in the United States is 1 million.  They are monogamous and will often return to the same breeding area year after year.  Sexual maturity occurs at 2 years of age.  Males will attempt a courtship flight display with females before mating. 


Many falconers have red-tailed hawks as their hunting companions due to the intelligent, social and healthy nature of these hawks.


In flight one of the best identifying features is the dark marks on the front underwing.  Adults show a red tail and juvenile have two-toned upper wings.


Length averages 19 inches, wingspan 49 inches and weighs 2 ½ pounds with large red-tails up to 3 1/3 pounds.


The Krider's version is a white morph of the Eastern red-tail with a nearly all white head and underparts

 




Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)


Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Swainson's Hawk Reaching for a Mouse

Burleigh County North Dakota


Female Swainson's Hawk

Calling for her Mate

Females have brown head, males have gray heads


Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Swainson's Hawk with the Mouse

Burleigh County North Dakota


Female Swainson's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota

Swainson’s hawks have one of the longest migrations of any raptor and will travel from their wintering range in Argentina all the way to their nesting areas in the northern plains and southern Canada.  This round trip can amount to 6,000 miles. 


Three age groups are seen: adult, one-year old and juvenile.  Females are larger than males.  Color varies from light-morph, rufous-morph to dark-morph.   The Swainson’s hawk is one of the largest raptors.  They breed on open areas and prairies of western states from Texas to North Dakota and over to California and western states.


Length averages 19 inches, wingspan 51 inches and weight nearly 2 pounds although some Swainson’s will weigh nearly 3 pounds.


Key recognition features on the classic adult are the red bib on the upper chest with on the unmarked white belly and a two-toned underwing with a pale wing front.  A white throat patch may also be seen.  The rufous morph has a rufous belly and red markings on the pale front underwing.  The dark morph has all dark body and underwings. 




Rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus)


Rough-legged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Rough-legged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Rough-legged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Rough-legged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota

The rough-legged hawk can be seen in southern Canada and northern states during the winter months as they migrate south from their summer Arctic breeding grounds.  This is a substantial hawk with females larger than males.  Feathers cover the legs to provide insulation in the hawk’s cold range.  Six plumage types are seen: adult male, female and juvenile of either dark or light morphs.


Light morphs predominate in the west while dark morphs amount to 25 to 40 percent in the east.


Length averages 21 inches, wingspans 53 inches and weighs 2.2 pounds with large rough-legged hawks weighing 3 pounds.


The rough-legged hawk has a distinctive wing pattern of dark carpal patches on the underwings and tail feathers with a white edge, followed by a dark and, the narrow bands of white and dark.  Rough-legged hawks can hover for a short period of time, a feature that distinguishes it from other hawks.  The American kestrel, however, excels in hovering.




Ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis)


Ferruginous Hawk

Light Morph

Burleigh County North Dakota


Ferruginous Hawk

Dark Morph

Burleigh County North Dakota


Ferruginous Hawk

Light Morph

Burleigh County North Dakota


Ferruginous Hawk

Dark Morph

Burleigh County North Dakota

Ferruginous hawks are named after their rust-colored (ferruginous) legs.  They and the rough-legged hawk are the only hawks with leg feathers which extend down to their toes.  The ferruginous hawk is the largest hawk in North America with females are larger than males.   Four types can be seen:  juvenile and adult of light and dark morphs.  Dark morphs are uncommon and amount to 10% of this hawk.  They hunt day and night by using a variety of techniques including ground or aerial attack and can hover over their prey.  Ferruginous Hawks prefer to eat small mammals: ground squirrels, prairie dogs, gophers and rabbits. They will occasionally eat amphibians, reptiles, insects, and birds.


Ferruginous hawks have a much shorter migration than broad-winged and Swainson’s hawks.  Ferruginous hawks winter in southern United States and Central America.


Length averages 23 inches, wingspan 56 inches and weight 3 ½ pounds although some Ferruginous weight up to 4 ½ pounds. 


Key recognition features are long tapered wings with dark wingtips, dark feathered legs and dark eye-line light morphs.  In flight, the dark legs appear to form a “V” on the belly while the white wings have black wingtips.  The tail is not banded.


Ferruginous hawks are not commonly found in North Dakota compared to the more common red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks and the northern harrier.  Ferruginous hawks are most frequently seen in southwestern states.  Numbers have recovered from hunting and habitat loss and their conservation status was moved from Near Threatened to Least Concern status in 2008.




Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)


Cooper's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Cooper's Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota

The Cooper’s hawk is a small forest hawk well adapted to navigating flight among trees, making flight photography somewhat difficult.  The underwings are characterized by alternating white and dark bands.  The rounded tail feathers show 4 to 5 dark bands, a helpful distinguishing identification pattern. 


Length averages 15 inches for males and 18 inches for females, wingspans 29 inches for males and 33 inches for females and weight 12 ounces for males and 19 ounces for females with large females weighing 24 ounces.  The sharp-tailed hawk is similar in appearance but significantly smaller.


Cooper’s hawks can be found year round in most of the United States except northern and northeastern states.  Migrating hawks will breed in northern states and Canada and then return to winter in southern states and Central America.  They sometimes hangout by bird feeders, even in northern states during the winter, to prey on song birds.




Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)


Broad-winged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota



Broad-winged Hawk

Burleigh County North Dakota


Broad-winged hawks are not commonly seen in North Dakota.  Their summer breeding range is in the eastern United States and central Canada.  Their winter range is in southern Florida, Central and South America.  Broad-winged hawks average 4,350 miles in their migration traveling nearly 70 miles a day.  They prefer forest habitat and prey on small mammals, amphibians, and insects by swooping down from low perches in trees.


Length averages 15 inches, wingspan 34 inches and weight averages 14 ounces with large broad-winged hawks can weight up to 17 ounces.




American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

The American Kestrel is common and widespread in North America.  The kestrel is the smallest falcon in the United States.  Females are slightly larger than males.  Males have a rufous tail with a prominent dark band near the end tail.  Females have a reddish brown tail with number dark steaks.  Both have a gorgeous face with prominent mustache marks on a white face.   


Length averages 9 inches, wingspan 22 inches and weigh 4 ounces with large kestrels up to 5 ounces.


Kestrels are found year round in much of the United States, Central and South America.  Migrating American kestrels will breed in northern states and Canada then winter in central and southern states and Central America.


The American Kestrel likes open areas where it hunts large insects, mice and small birds from utility wires along roads.  This bird nests in abandoned woodpecker nests, openings in rocks and nooks in buildings.




Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Northern harriers can be recognized from a distance by their flight pattern, low to the ground and following contours of the land.  Males have largely white underwings, black wing tips and a dark gray head giving a hooded look.  Females have a dark brown head, brown streaked chest and multiple lines on the underwings.  Juveniles look like females except more of a rufous coloration.


Northern Harriers prefer prairie grasslands and sloughs.  They nest and on the ground and, in my experience, do not perch frequently on posts or powerlines.


Northern harrier females average 19 inches in length, 46 inches in wingspan and weight 18 ounces.  Males are considerably smaller and weight on average 12 ounces.


Northern harriers breed in Canada, northern, central, western states and winter in western states, Central America and northern South America.




Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)


Bald Eagle

Burleigh County North Dakota


Bald Eagle

Burleigh County North Dakota


Bald Eagle

Burleigh County North Dakota


Bald Eagle

Burleigh County North Dakota

The American bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States and a sacred bird to many Native American tribes.  Over hunting and widespread use of DDT resulted in catastrophic losses of bald eagles with only 412 nesting pairs identified in the 48 contiguous states in the 1950s.  The bald and golden eagle protection act of 1940 began the process of recovery and DDT was banned in 1972.


The bald eagle is one of two North American eagles.  Females are larger than males.   Adult plumage arrives by age five years.  Young bald eagles can be identified by their age by recognizing their plumage and the amount of white on their bellies and wings.


Length averages 31 inches, wingspans 80 inches and weight 9 1/2 pounds with large eagles weighing up to nearly 14 pounds.


Bald eagles live year round in Alaska, western Canada, the northern west coast and northern Rockies.  Most of Canada and several northern states provide summer breeding habitat.  Bald eagles winter in most western, southern and northeastern states.  Most bald eagles head north through North Dakota into Canada although some will nest here along the Missouri River or near large lakes.  If the Missouri River has open water during mild winters, some bald eagles will stay in North Dakota during the winter.


The bald eagle is a fish eagle and therefore prefers lake and river habitat with nearby forest for perching and nesting.  Bald eagle nests are huge and can weigh nearly two tons!


The American bald eagle is an early arriver to North Dakota in the spring.  Over 60 bald eagles can easily be seen in a several hour drive from Bismarck.  Resting on partially frozen lake, the bald eagles feast on fish that died during the winter.


Bald eagles hunt fish but will also eat injured animals and roadkill.  They nest beginning in March or early April often using the same nest every year, adding layers to it, resulting in very large nests as time goes by.





An eagle can rotate its head approximately 180 degrees in each direction. Eagles have 14 cervical vertebrae allowing for greater rotation than humans who have just 7 cervical vertebrae and can typically rotate just 70-90 degrees in either direction. Many birds can survey their entire surroundings by moving their heads and not their body, helpful when perched on a small branch!



Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is one of the largest and fastest raptors in North America.


Golden Eagle's diet subsists primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs as opposed to the bald eagle who prefers fish.


Bald eagles are larger than golden eagles in average height and wingspan, but there isn't much difference in average weight. One way to distinguish a golden eagle from an immature bald eagle is leg plumage. A golden eagle's legs are entirely feather covered; an immature bald eagle's lower legs are bare. As seen while in flight, juvenile golden eagles have white patches at the base of the primaries; the tail is white with a distinct dark terminal band. It takes four years to acquire adult plumage. Adult golden eagles are brown with tawny on the back of the head and neck; tail faintly banded.


The Rough-legged Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Golden Eagle are the only American raptors to have legs feathered all the way to the toes.



Adult Golden Eagles are dark brown with a golden patch on the back of the head and neck. For their first several years of life, young birds have white patches at the base of the tail and in the wings.


Golden Eagles prefer partially or completely open country, especially around mountains, hills, and cliffs. They use a variety of habitats ranging from arctic to desert, including tundra, shrublands, grasslands, coniferous forests, farmland, and areas along rivers and streams. Found year round in the western half of the U.S., they are occasionally winter in eastern states after nesting in Canada.



Other Raptors


Turkey Vulture

Burleigh County North Dakota


Prairie Falcon

Burleigh County North Dakota

Answers to Northern Plains Raptor Quiz


1.  Which raptors have feathers on their legs down to their talons?

Answers- feathered legs help the hawks stay warm in very cold environments

b.  Rough-legged hawk

e.  Ferruginous hawk


2.  Which raptors are known for their ability to hover in flight?

Answers- hovering helps in finding prey but is labor intensive and difficult for large birds

b.  Rough-legged hawk

d.  American kestrel



3.  Which raptor has one of the longest migrations from Argentina to North Dakota each spring?

Answer- Swainson's and broad-winged hawks have long migrations

c.  Swainson's hawk



4.  Which raptor in commonly referred to as the "chicken hawk"?

Answer- during the early 20th century, the red-tail was hunted due to the inaccurate belief that it preyed on poultry

a.  Red-tailed hawk



Moveable Necks


Raptors have 14 cervical vertebrae that allow them to turn their necks 180 degrees or more. In contrast, humans have only 7 cervical vertebrae and can rotate their heads just 70-90 degrees in either direction.


https://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/learn/glossary/


Birds, such as the red-tailed hawk, move their head to move their eyes


Neck flexion 45 degrees allows the red-tailed hawk to check the ground for prey


Neck extension 90 degrees allows the red-tailed hawk to check the sky for other predators


Neck rotation 90 degrees allows the red-tailed hawk to check the sky for prey and  other predators


Neck rotation 135 degrees allows the red-tailed hawk to clean and prune feathers and check the area for prey and other predators


Neck rotation 180 degrees allows the red-tailed hawk to clean and prune feathers and check the area for prey and other predators


2019 Photos



Northern Harrier


The Hawk with an Owl-shaped Face!



A rare perched image!


Northern Harriers are the most owl-like of hawks (though they’re not related to owls). They rely on hearing as well as vision to capture prey. The disk-shaped face looks and functions much like an owl’s, with stiff facial feathers helping to direct sound to the ears.


https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Harrier/overview



Red-tailed Hawk Breakfast


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