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  • Writer's pictureVicki Wilmarth

Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph)

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

Only 10% of Ferruginous Hawks are dark morphs, so I felt lucky to see this beautiful guy in northeast Amarillo.

Ferruginous Hawk on NE 24th in Amarillo, Potter County, December 2019
Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph probably juvenile)

On the west side of NE 24th and Loop 335 in Amarillo is a large prairie dog town. The area is criss-crossed with power poles, and during the winter it is not uncommon to see a bald eagle sitting on one of the poles (just out of range to get a really good photo, of course). But on Sunday, December 1, 2019, in addition to two mature bald eagles, I also saw this gorgeous Ferruginous Hawk.

Poor Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs--they are the favorite food of Ferruginous Hawks in Texas. I've seen many prairie dog towns in Amarillo and the surrounding countryside with two or three Ferruginous Hawks in the sky or on power poles, picking out their next meal.

Ferruginous Hawks show up in the Panhandle only in the late fall and are gone in March. They are the largest hawk species in North America (around two feet tall). This one may be a juvenile because he is monochromatic, whereas the adults tend to have a mixture of dark brown and dark red coloring. He also has yellow eyes, which will darken to brown as he ages. All Ferruginous Hawks have that very long, bright yellow gape (mouth), the better to fit a prairie dog into!

My husband, Rohn, and I have only seen one other dark morph Ferruginous Hawk, which we originally mistook from a distance to be a juvenile bald eagle based on the large size. This one was also on a power pole in a prairie dog town in southeast Amarillo back in January 2019.

Ferruginous Hawk on Sundown Lane in Randall County, January 2019
Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph adult)

And then on December 12, I saw another adult dark morph Ferruginous Hawk. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I saw another one since I see several Ferruginous Hawks on every winter birding excursion (probably about one bird for every two or three miles of country road and more where prairie dogs are plentiful). Even though the dark morphs are unusual, one out of every ten that I see should be a dark bird. And since the Texas Panhandle is an winter epicenter for these hawks, I'll hopefully see many more of these lovely raptors.

Update: As of December 28, 2019, the striking brown juvenile Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph) from the beginning of this post is still hanging around in the same prairie dog town on Loop 335 and NE 24th street in Amarillo. He favors a line of short telephone poles just east of the Amarillo Terminal Reservoir and carefully watches the prairie dogs below, perhaps selecting his next happy meal. With his big size and long beak, he still is easily mistaken for a juvenile Bald Eagle, especially when he is feeding on the ground.

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