For the past week a Rough-legged Hawk has been hanging around CREP fields along highway 220 in Centre County. The habitat is beautiful and loaded with raptors but unfortunately all of the property is owned by the state prison. The best area to view the hawk from was along 220 which has tons of traffic, so all in all, the hawk really couldn’t have picked a worse place for birders to see it from. Luckily, it seems the Roughleg has chosen a new, more convienent location to be viewed from. If you take exit 78 off 220 and follow the road south, there is a gravel pull-off near an entrance road to the prison and an old barn. From here the Roughleg hunts close to the road on the east side. Anna Fasoli (http://annafasoli.blogspot.com) and I spent a while today trying to get decent photos of the hawk and to also determine what color morph and age the bird was, since no one has been able to get a good, long look at the bird yet.
We determined the hawk is an Intermediate Morph Adult Rough-legged Hawk. The “intermediate” morph is sometimes considered a heavily marked “light morph” type.
The following criteria was used to come to this conclusion; dark underwing coverts, dark and very obvious subterminal band on the trailing edge of the wings, dark underside with very dark areas creating a belly-band and a dark breast, light-colored tail with a very dark subterminal band shown on both the upperside and underside. That last bit of info is crucial for deciding the bird was not a dark morph since on a dark morph, the upperside of the tail would be dark and not shown any white on a dark morphed bird. As far as why the bird is not a juvenile, the upperside of the wings were solid dark brown. In a juvenile, the upperside of the wings would be light brown/grayish on the primary flight feathers much like how a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk has lighter-colored primary feathers on the upperside of the wing. (Photos below were taken by Alex Lamoreaux)
Wheeler, Brian K. Raptors of Eastern North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007.