South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Ferruginous Hawk

Buteo regalis

Length: 22 - 28 inches Wingspan: 56 inches Seasonality: Summer / All Seasons
ID Keys: Variable, with both light and dark morphs.  Yellow gape extending well below eye.  Largest of the Buteos.

Ferruginous Hawk - Buteo regalisThe Ferruginous Hawk is a large regal (Buteo regalis!) hawk of open western prairies.  They are the largest of the "Buteo" Hawks.  In historic times, the nest of the Ferruginous Hawk often used both bison bones in the structure and bison dung as part of a lining.  They are a species that seems less shy of human beings than some other Buteo hawks.  They will often allow for a relatively close approach (hence, the large number of photos I have below).

Habitat: Grassland, sagebrush plains, rangeland, desert. 

Diet: Mostly small mammals, including ground squirrels, jackrabbits, gophers, rabbits, and mice.  Also eats some birds and reptiles.

Behavior: Generally hunts while soaring, or by observing from a perch.   It can also often be seen sitting on the ground, where sometimes it will wait by a gopher or prairie dog hole for prey to surface.

Nesting: April through June in South Dakota.  Most nests are built in trees, but they will also sometimes nest on cliffs or on the ground.  The nest is a large structure of built of sticks, lined with softer material.  They will use cow dung (or traditionally, bison dung) to line the nest.  The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  Upon hatching, the female initially stays with the young while the male hunts for food and brings it back to the nest.  As the chicks get older, both parents will hunt for food.

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map

Song: Harsh key-ahh, or kaah-kaah. 

Migration: Generally a short-distance migrant, with some birds at the northern end of it's normal range migrating southward in the winter.

Similar Species: Depending on morph and age, can be confused with the Red-Tailed Hawk or the Rough-Legged Hawk.

Conservation Status: Ferruginous Hawks have disappeared or plummeted in number in much of their former range, primarily due to habitat loss.  However, overall populations remain relatively strong, and they are found over a wide geographic region.  The IUCN lists them as a species of "Least Concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot": My favorite location to find them are around prairie dog towns on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Ferruginous Hawk

2) Ferruginous Hawk


Photo Information: November 27th, 2011 - Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Ferruginous Hawk photos.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Ferruginous Hawk - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and summer resident in most of the state, except absent in the southeast. Rare in winter.