Brought to Sharon Audubon Center: January 2019
Injury: West Nile Virus
History: Ruffian is a dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk that was found stranded on a frozen lake for several days. We received a call at night in the middle of a blizzard. Rescued by our local Environmental Conservation Officer, who had to walk out on the ice to rescue her. She had a federal band when found, that says she was banded in Quebec in 2017, making her 2 years old when found (the typical longevity of this species in the wild). She was severely emaciated and her head was twisted upside down—a condition, called "torticollis."
Our veterinarian diagnosed her with having West Nile Virus, which often causes torticollis. West Nile Virus is usually fatal to birds, yet she is a rare survivor! She received intensive physical therapy and even cold laser treatments on her neck to help her turn her head right side up. Now she can turn her head right side up on her own, but the torticollis is still present, making her unable to be released back into the wild. Despite her challenges, she is a very happy hawk!
Rough-Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
Average Height: 18.5 - 20.5 inches
Average Weight: 1.5 - 3 lbs
Wingspan: 52 - 54 inches
Life Span: 15 - 18 years (often don't survive past 2 years in the wild)
Description: The Rough-legged Hawk breeds in the Arctic and migrates to the lower 48 states to spend the winter, where it hunts in open country for its rodent prey. Its common name originates from the feathers that cover its feet all the way down to the toes; only this species, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Golden Eagle have feathers that extend to their toes in the United States. This species also occurs in two color morphs: light and dark.
Call: Loud or soft whistles, often in a descending scale.
Range: Breeds in the artic and occupies much of the United States except for parts of the south and southeast during the wintertime.
Habitat: Meadows, agricultural fields, and airport lawns during the winter; treeless tundra, uplands, and alpine regions (both inland and coastal) in their summer range.
Diet: Predominately rodents, particularly voles and lemmings in the artic and voles, mice, and shrews on their wintering grounds. This species will also occasionally take medium-sized mammals such as pocket gophers and young hare.