NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 26, 2013

Rough-legged Hawks put on a show

A snowy owl was finally reported from Plum Island, apparently preferring the northern end of the island instead of the refuge the past couple of weeks. There have been several snowys at Logan Airport in Boston this season, and even further south, but they seemed to have bypassed our area this year. Maybe a few more will arrive before the winter is through.

There have been other raptors keeping things interesting in our area. In addition to the Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks that have been raiding feeder birds in local backyards, there has been a Cooper’s hawk and merlin patrolling the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. A lone kestrel has been hunting along the Plum Island Turnpike, most often sitting on a pole or wire near the Wilkinson Bridge to the island. The raptor show on Plum Island has been very good. Northern harriers are hunting the marshes and fields with up to eight or nine seen in a day. But the winter highlight is always the Rough-legged Hawk. It is a good day when you see this large buteo, which is larger than the common red-tailed hawk. Roughlegs come in light and dark morphs, and they are often seen hovering over a field, much like a kestrel, as it hunts for prey.

Seeing one or two in a day is special, but Paul Roberts, of Medford, counted five last Saturday which made for a spectacular day:

“Today was simply one of the best Rough-legged Hawk days I’ve ever had on Plum Island or anywhere else — five Rough-legged Hawks: one dark morph female, one dark morph male, one brown or intermediate morph, and two light morph (including one female). We had a smallish light morph down by Bill Forward Pool and then had four roughlegs hunting essentially over the town marker field and the dunes east of there. Winds were 20 to 35-plus mph out of the southwest and the birds were loving it, hanging and hovering into the winds. We had the male dark morph perched; He looked so small I first mistook him for a crow, but he took off and joined the much larger female.

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