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Winter Rough-Legged Hawks On The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge


Winter brings down rough-legged hawks to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as a yearly visitor. This year has been very plentiful with these beautiful raptors, not just on the refuge but in other northern Utah locations as well.

rough-legged hawk
Rough-legged hawks make the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge their winter home.

Typically I spend a little bit of time watching and photographing these birds each winter but this year with all the snow I have not had much of a chance to get out and photograph the rough-legged hawk. In fact, I have only been out in search of them twice this season, both times well before mother nature turned on the snow machine and seemingly forgot where the off switch is.

rough-legged hawk
Rough-legged hawk after a missed attempt at a vole.

The rough-legged hawk is primarily a rodent eating raptor, one that can often times be seen hovering in place over a field searching for a sign of its prey. I am not aware of many other raptors which show this hunting technique, except for the american kestrel.

rough-legged hawk
Rough-legged hawks often hover in place in search of its prey.


The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge plays host to a variety of raptors. Each winter along with the rough-legged hawk I have often observed peregrine falcons and bald eagles on the bird refuge, along with the occasional merlin falcon. I am not sure but I tend to think the rough-legged hawk travels the furthest to get to this winter feeding grounds, coming as far north as the arctic region of Canada where they breed each summer.

rough-legged hawk on the bear river migratory bird refuge
A rough-legged hawk perched on the ground on a very cold morning on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

Hopefully winter will slow down a bit here soon and give me a bit of time to get back out on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to try and photograph a few more rough-legged hawks before they begin their journey northward for the season. But for today it is time to once again shovel my driveway as it is currently snowing again. I will admit I would much rather be behind my camera than a snow shovel but all this moisture does bring water to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge during the summer so it is a small price to pay to have such a wonderful migratory bird refuge close at hand.

rough-legged hawk on the bear river migratory bird refuge.
An early morning rough-legged hawk on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
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