rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus)

A dark-morph rough-legged hawk spends
the winter along a county road in central Illinois.
The rough-legged hawk is related to the common red-tailed hawk. Notice its legs are feathered down to its feet. The rough-legged hawk breeds in the arctic and visits Illinois during migration.

The rough-legged hawk is born in the Arctic and passes through Illinois during migration. It is a common winter resident, present most often in the northern part of the state.

At the IRC, we often see rough-legs on their first migration because they are encountering civilization, including cars, buildings and power lines, for the first time.

As you can imagine, this is a very dangerous time for them.

One difference between red-tailed hawks and rough-legged hawks is in the feathering of the legs. Rough-legged hawks have feathers all the way down to their feet, while red-tails do not.

Like the red-tailed hawk, they also come in a variety of color phases.

photos by Chris Young
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Quick Facts about rough-legged hawks:


Small mammals. They often feed on roadkill, and are in danger of being hit by cars.


Rough-legged hawks are seen in Illinois during migration and in winter.

Where Are They Seen?

They can be seen in open country, perching on phone poles, fence posts, treetops and sometimes on the ground.