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Ferruginous Hawk in Kentucky!

 Photo: Laura Keene

A small flock of birders scan for Kentucky's first state record Ferruginous Hawk, Buteo regalis, at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The bird was first brought to light last Sunday, April 1st by Rodney Crice, but this was no April Fool's Day prank.

 Photo: Laura Keene

A regal beast indeed, and easy enough to spot. Ferruginous Hawk is our largest buteo, and is noticeably larger than the common benchmark for soaring hawks in this area, the Red-tailed Hawk.

This is very much a species of wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the western U.S. It's no surprise that this wayward visitor would be drawn to the grassy expanses of a large airport.

Photo: Laura Keene

This bird is a picture-perfect juvenile light morph Ferruginous Hawk. For simplicity's sake, one can just say that there are two color morphs, similar to a Rough-legged Hawk: light, and dark. There are consistent intermediate variants, though. Like the Rough-legged Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk has fully feathered legs, a trait shared only by the Golden Eagle among North American hawks. Densely booted legs are an adaption for the oft-brutal winter climates that these species endure.

The bird shows the long wings and tail of a Ferrug (immature birds supposedly have even longer tails than adults), dark flank markings and big thick "eye line". The pale morphs, like this bird, are also quite white and ghostly, and really draw one's eye.

Here's the rub, insofar as the wacky world of bird listing goes. The airport, seen at the lower end of the red line, is firmly ensconced within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Score one for the Kentucky birders and their new state record. Follow the red line north, across the Ohio River, and you are in Ohio - a scant one and three-quarters of a mile north of the celebrity Ferruginous Hawk!

Unfortunately for avid listers, birds tend not to care a whit about political boundaries. If Senor/Senorita Buteo regalis would JUST make a one minute peregrination northward, it would invade Buckeye State airspace and give us a new state record! Ferruginous Hawk has long been predicted to appear in Ohio, but this visitor to Kentucky is the closest we've yet come.

No matter, wherever this bird is it's a beauty. It could be many a month of Sundays before another Ferruginous Hawk appears in our neck of the woods, so if you get a chance, get down to Kentucky and have a look at this magnificent raptor.

Congratulations to Rodney Crice for bringing this great find to light, and thanks to Laura Keene for allowing me the use of her photos. To keep abreast of this bird's status, check the Kentucky Birds Listserv.


OPShots1 said…
Superb find Rodney, congrats on such a fine bird!
Every year at our CBC countdown, I say I had a ferruginous hawk, mostly because I just like to say it. Dang, so close and yet so far away from Toledo.... I really need to see one out west this summer.

Awesome find.
Anna Meyer said…
I have one that's been living in the woods in my back yard five yrs or so now he keeps eating my baby chickens darn it

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