The Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk in a tree.If you have ever spent much time in Idaho’s desert country or along the Snake River Canyon you have probably witnessed the aerobatics on display as Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and other birds of prey navigate the thermals in search of food. However, there is one raptor that most people, even bird watchers, find hard to track down, much less identify – Buteo Regalis, or the Regal One.

The Regal One, or the Ferruginous Hawk, caught the attention of Dr. Leon Powers many years ago while working on his doctoral thesis in Biology. In his book, A Hawk in the Sun, Powers chronicles his adventures while studying this hawk.

Ferruginous Hawk feeding its young.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go back and write the story about the Ferruginous Hawk is that after all these long years ago that I studied them, even yet today the general public just doesn’t know this bird very well and so I tried with my book to write a story about a little known hawk, a beautiful majestic bird that is not well known by the public and to write in a way that would invite their participation into the lives of a hawk.”

Powers goes on to describe the majestic raptor, “It’s a desert hawk, kind of a hawk of the prairies and desert country. Very white with dark, rufus or rusty colored legs that give a sort of dark ‘V’ against a white underside. Ferruginous Hawk on a power pole.It has a wing span of just under five foot and about two feet in length. A very white colored hawk. It gets its name Ferruginous from the Rusty Red plumage; it has a reddish tinge to it. Ferruginous means rusty red.”

These raptors have adapted well to the vast dry deserts of Idaho, but in some places their environments are changing drastically. Wildfires have erased the sagebrush from many areas of Idaho desert, allowing invasive species of grass to take over. Besides destroying their surroundings, this fire damage also threatens the hawks’ diet. As Powers describes, “As we’ve lost sagebrush we are losing jack rabbitsYoung Ferruginous Hawk in its nest. – that really reduces some of the primary prey species for the Ferruginous Hawk and so they are having to revert off on smaller prey species and they can survive on that but they just don’t get the energy pay back that they would with a large animal.”

According to Powers, birds are excellent indicators of environmental quality, “Edward O. Wilson has said so well that birds are the flagship of the environment and if you save habitat for birds you save habitat for a host of other wildlife species as well – both plants and animals. I like to think you are saving paradise almost lost when you do that.”

Outdoor Idaho home Birders, Banders and Binoculars home