Feathered Tarsi – Ferruginous & Rough-legged Hawks Have Feathered Legs

Ferruginous Hawk showing its feathered legs (tarsi)Ferruginous Hawk showing its feathered legs (tarsi) – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

North America has two hawk (buteos) species that have feathered tarsi, or legs, those two species are Ferruginous Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks.

Ferruginous Hawks generally have rusty colored feathering on their legs although on some immature light morph Ferruginous Hawks the feathering may be lighter in color. The light morph Ferruginous Hawk in the photo above shows the typical rusty colored tarsi that help distinguish this species from other buteos in the field through the lens of a camera, scope, binoculars or naked eyes. There are of course other features that can be used to ID this species but a hawk with feathered legs helps to narrow the ID down to just two in North America.

Side note: Golden Eagles also have feathered tarsi however they are not buteos.

Male Rough-legged Hawk showing its feathered legs (tarsi)Male Rough-legged Hawk showing its feathered legs (tarsi) – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The other North American buteos that have feathered tarsi are Rough-legged Hawks, they are raptors that breed in the Arctic tundra and taiga. The coloring of the feathers on their legs varies with gender, age and morph.

Here in Utah we see Rough-legged Hawks only during their nonbreeding season starting around October, so if you see a hawk with feathered legs in July chances are you could easily rule out Rough-legged Hawk as your ID simply because it would be highly unlikely to see a Rough-legged Hawk in the lower 48 during the breeding season.

Light morph Swainson's Hawk adult about to scratchLight morph Swainson’s Hawk adult about to scratch – Nikon D500, f10, 1/640, ISO 400, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I wanted to include at least one buteo species here to compare their bare tarsi to the feathered tarsi of Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks in the photos above so I picked this close up of a light morph Swainson’s Hawk that was about to scratch itself when I photographed it in northern Utah earlier this year that shows its bare legs quite well.

When it gets really cold here in northern Utah there are times I wish I had feathered legs too to keep them warm and insulated but I have to settle for layering my clothing.

Life is good.



  1. Pepe Forte November 13, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Another tutorial for me. Terrific shots with a helpful narrative. Love the hawk flying over the speed limit sign (or is he landing?) Either way…great pic. Thanks Mia.

  2. Laura Culley November 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

    I feel cheated in that I have to negotiate this life without feathers and appropriate wings (redtail sized or larger thank you!)! I mean really! How are we supposed to get through the day without feathers? 🙂

  3. hummingbird lover November 8, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Hi! I love all your photo’s! Love mom

  4. Elephants Child November 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Glorious things – but I am addicted to bird britches.

  5. Marty K November 7, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Oh boy! Pantaloons! 🙂 These are wonderful shots, Mia. The Swainson’s really shows the contrast. Very cool!

  6. Larrry Muench November 7, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Great information. Thanks, Mia.

  7. Liz Cormack November 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

    I learn so much from you! Thank you. Beautiful photos.

  8. Patty Chadwick November 7, 2017 at 8:42 am

    WOW!!! These are beautiful images as well as great illustrations for making your point. One way I tell Golden Eagles from immature Baldies is that I remind myself that Badies wear knickers and Goldens wear long pants.

  9. April Olson November 7, 2017 at 7:11 am

    My daughters favorite bird. She fell in love with Ferruginous Hawks the first time she saw one in the rehab. Funny because her personality often reminds me of them!

  10. Kim November 7, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Beautiful images!

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