The Rough-legged Hawk and the Need for Research

by Bryce W. Robinson

Rough-legged Hawk- Buteo lagopus. 11x17" prismacolor on bristol

Rough-legged Hawk- Buteo lagopus. 11×17″ prismacolor on bristol

I’ve always been fascinated by the Rough-legged Hawk, for many reasons. I especially enjoy the aesthetics of the heavily patterned males. But apart from the aesthetic, my fascination lies in the bird’s habits and life history.

I find the Arctic particularly alluring. The avian life of this region is ultimately fascinating. My natural affinity towards birds of prey puts my interest deep into the raptorial species that frequent the tundra ecosystem. I’m currently developing a project focused on the largest falcon in the world, a circumpolar Arctic denizen, the Gyrfalcon. This bird is king, but I must admit that I am equally captivated by the Arctic Buteo, the Rough-legged Hawk.


Neil Paprocki with a Red-tailed Hawk on a recent trapping outing.

I recently made the acquaintance of a kindred spirit whose fascination with the Rough-legged Hawk equals, if not surpasses my own. My new friend Neil Paprocki recently finished a study investigating the distributions of wintering raptors in North America. This study resulted in very enlightening and important results. He discovered using historic data from Christmas Bird Counts that over the past few decades winter raptor distributions have started a northward shift in range. The implications for these findings are profound. I encourage everyone to read his results on the online journal PLOS ONE.

The more I learn about how our changing climate is affecting the Arctic, the more driven I am to create or support monitoring and research programs to help understand the future of the Arctic community. I believe that research projects designed to understand changes in Rough-legged Hawk populations in the next fifteen years will help predict how our changing world will impact wildlife, especially those with particular strategies for survival. Neil is focused on the Rough-legged Hawk as an appropriate avenue to continue his research, so I decided to illustrate this bird for Neil to show my support and encouragement. Let’s start a research program focused on the Roughie, and how it is weathering a changing system.

Here is a video I made some time ago to promote HawkWatch International’s winter monitoring program. Citizen Science can be a great help to researchers such as Neil. Get involved at