The United Kingdom is home to a rich diversity of bird species, and birdwatchers often find themselves captivated by visitors from abroad that grace its skies. One such visitor, the Rough-Legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus), is a truly awe-inspiring bird of prey known for its striking appearance and unique migration patterns. After seeing one hunting for worms in a recently ploughed field, we decided to find out more about them and delve into the fascinating world of the Rough-Legged Buzzard, exploring its characteristics and behaviour.
Identification and Appearance
The Rough-Legged Buzzard is a raptor belonging to the Buteo genus, which includes a variety of buzzards and hawks. It is distinguished by its characteristic features:
- Plumage: It has a striking appearance with its mottled plumage. Both the dark and light morphs have distinctive markings. The light morph features a pale head and underparts, contrasting with dark streaking. The dark morph is predominantly brown with a heavily streaked pattern. The plumage helps this bird blend into its Arctic tundra habitat.
- Leg Feathers: One of the most noticeable characteristics of this species is its feathered legs, which extend down to its feet. These feathered legs serve as insulation in the harsh Arctic climate and make it easier to walk on the snow.
- Wingspan: They have a wingspan of approximately 135-160 cm, making them medium-sized raptors.
- Tail: Their tails are relatively long and often display a dark terminal band.
Habitat and Distribution
The Rough-Legged Buzzard is typically associated with the Arctic tundra, where it breeds during the summer months. This species nests on cliffs and rocky outcrops, building nests of sticks, grass and feathers. During the winter, they migrate south in search of more hospitable conditions.
These birds are known for their long-distance migrations, and the UK is one of their southernmost wintering grounds.
Behavior and Diet
Rough-Legged Buzzards are skilled hunters, and their diet consists primarily of small mammals. They are often seen hovering or soaring in search of prey. Their hunting technique is characterised by a patient and vigilant approach, as they scan the ground for movement and then swoop down to catch their prey with their sharp talons.
Rough-Legged Buzzards are not considered globally threatened. However, like many other raptors, they face challenges related to habitat loss and environmental changes. Conservation efforts that protect their breeding grounds in the Arctic and ensure the preservation of their wintering habitats are crucial to their continued survival.