Rough-legged Buzzard

Buteo lagopus

One of our less familiar birds of prey, and the only regularly occurring one that is a winter migrant to the UK. Rough-legged Buzzards are birds of northern countries, found right around the Northern Hemisphere in North America, Europe and Russia, although absent from Iceland and Greenland. During the breeding season they live over bogs and mountainous heathland areas, or in clearings in coniferous woodland. Harsh winter conditions mean that most move south, with birds arriving in the UK in varying numbers each year due both to weather conditions and the cyclical nature of numbers of their rodent prey. Rough-legged Buzzard are most likely to be encountered on the east coast and the northern islands of Shetland and Orkney.

Similar in size to Common Buzzards, Rough-legged Buzzards have proportionally longer wings, and present a different silhouette, appearing at times more eagle-like. They are very likely to be seen hovering, as this is their favoured hunting technique.

Plumage is similar to Common Buzzard, although a white-based tail and dark belly patch are helpful features where present.


Size: Average length 55cm, wingspan 135cm. Females (1.3kg) larger than males (900g).

Status: Winter migrant

Population size: Varying numbers. Usually up to 20 birds in a year, occasionally 100 or more.

Conservation status. Globally LEAST THREATENED.

Lifespan: Not known.

Distribution: Holarctic distribution. Nests in Arctic habitats, winter visitor to UK.

Movements: Highly mobile, responding to weather conditions and abundance and distribution of prey species.

Feeding: Specialises in hunting small rodents, especially voles and lemmings, but is adaptable and will target birds when rodent numbers are low. Usually hunts either from a perch, or during prolonged hovering flights.

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