Foam Lake Birding No. 125


No. 125

Like the Lark Bunting discussed in the last article, the Ferruginous Hawk is a bird that also occurs only in the grasslands of North America. In Canada it is found only in the southern grasslands of Alberta and Saskatchewan. For many years the Ferruginous Hawk has been listed as rare, endangered, threatened and so on, but every time that I have traveled the south I have always seen at least several.

The Ferruginous Hawk shares the plains with two other similar sized (actually slightly smaller) hawks, the Swainsons and Redtailed. While driving along any road in the grasslands one will almost be assured of seeing one of these three hawks every hundred metres or so sitting prominently on a fence post or power pole. From there they survey their surroundings for prey with their favourite the common gopher (Richardson's Ground Squirrel) supplemented by mice and striped gophers. In addition, the Grasslands National Park now has about ten Prairie Dog colonies that serve as nature's pantry for a variety of predators. Only the pups can realistically be taken by the Ferruginous Hawk, but the much larger Golden Eagles have no trouble dispensing with an adult.

Of the three hawks listed the Ferruginous is the palest with white under parts extending from the chin to the tail tip. Although it is the largest of our hawks the size difference is so small that if all three hawks were lined up side by side they would all appear to be the same size. The undersides of the tails of the Swainsons and Redtailed are barred while those of the Ferruginous are pure white. This difference can be used to differentiate the Ferruginous from the others. While the females and males are the same the females are noticeably larger than the males which adds to the confusion if one is trying to identify hawks by size.

This week's photo was taken along a road near Coronach in the Big Muddy Valley. The picture clearly shows the pure white underside of the tail which the other hawks do not have. Because of its pale colouration, especially about the head, the bird seems to have a bug-eyed look. For those who venture into the southern part of our province look for the Ferruginous Hawk sitting prominently on a power pole looking for its next meal