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North Dakota's

Federally Listed Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species – 1995

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

JPG -- species photo gif--species map

Status: Former Candidate (Note: As of February 28, 1996, this species is no longer listed as a Candidate species. However, it remains a species of management concern.)

Historical Status:
The ferruginous hawk appears to have been common throughout North Dakota. Early observers reported that the bird was the most common hawk species along the Missouri River, with the exception of the kestrel.

Present Status:
The ferruginous hawk nests from eastern Washington to southern Canada, east to the Dakotas and south to northern Texas. Thc bird winters mostly in the southwest United States and central Mexico. It appears to still be relatively common in portions of central and western North Dakota, however, it may be extirpated (no longer exists) in the eastern portion of the state.

The ferruginous hawk inhabits the dry western plains and the intermountain regions. It appears to prefer unbroken prairie with little cultivated land. They can survive in treeless prairies.

Life History:
The ferruginous hawk returns to its summer breeding range in March. It appears to prefer to nest in tall trees when available. In most of its habitat these trees are available only in river bottoms. They're also known to nest on cliffs, powerlines, and on the ground. They will vigorously defend the nest from predators as large as coyotes. Both sexes incubate the clutch of 3 to 4 eggs. The eggs take about 28 days to hatch. The chicks leave the nest after about 44 days. Ferruginous hawks are known to live 20 years in the wild. Ground squirrels, gophers, and prairie dogs comprise the main portion of the hawks diet although it will take snakes, locust and other small prey.

Aid to identification:
The ferruginous hawk is one of the largest and most powerful of the hawks. Adults are about 2 feet long with a wingspan of 4 1/2 feet. The adults have three color phases the most common of which is the "light" phase which is reddish brown above and white below with red-brown legs. When flying overhead the legs of the "light" phase form a characteristic "V" contrasting with the white belly area. On rare occasions, ferruginous hawks may also exhibit a "dark" phase or a "red" phase. These birds are simply genetic variations of the common light phase.

Reasons for decline:
The decline in the ferruginous hawk appears to be highly correlated with the loss of natural prairie habitat. Studies have shown that ferruginous hawks decline in areas of increasing cultivation even when other hawk species remain stable. The ferruginous may also be susceptible to pesticides much like eagles and falcons are.

Report suspected ferruginous hawk nests to a wildlife agency. This information is presently needed because the ferruginous hawk is being considered for official listing pursuant to the endangered species act.

"Ferruginous" refers to the rusty color of the bird. The ferruginous hawk is also called the "gopher" hawk because of its fondness for gophers and ground squirrels and the "eagle hawk" because of its large size. It has been said that the ferruginous hawk personifies the vast open prairies of North Dakota more than any other bird. Hawks, like all birds of prey, are protectet by federal laws and treaties.

Breeding Birds of North Dakota by R. Stewart, 1975.

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