The final raptors of winter

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It’s final mild, late April, in Baudette, Minnesota. Right here, straddling the U.S.-Canada border, it’s additionally no passports required for northbound raptors hovering within the fading daylight like otherworldly apparitions.

Within the lowlands of Minnesota’s Laurentian Blended Forest Province, dozens of Tough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) on their spring migration to arctic nesting grounds have arrived at a vole buffet. The plentiful rodents gas the hawks on the following leg of their journey, says wildlife biologist Scott Laudenslager, space supervisor on the Minnesota Division of Pure Assets.

The Tough-legged Hawk is a big, long-winged buteo of open habitats. The raptor, named for its feathered legs, breeds in arctic and sub-arctic areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. The Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature charges the Tough-leg as a species of “Least Concern.” Nonetheless, the chicken faces habitat loss, local weather change, environmental contaminants, and illness.

In autumn, Tough-legs depart the arctic and transfer south to areas with “milder” climate in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Wintering Tough-legs often select open habitats much like their tundra breeding grounds, corresponding to agricultural lands and airports. The place meals is plentiful, the raptors typically focus in massive numbers.

Tough-legged Hawk close to Baudette, Minnesota. Picture by Ilya Raskin

This spring, late snows have slowed the hawks’ return north. As a lot as two toes nonetheless blanket the woodlands and prairies round Baudette. “Tough-legs migrate by means of right here in large numbers, though often earlier in spring,” Laudenslager says. “Their migration is dependent upon snow depth and whether or not they can discover meals whereas they’re on their means north.”

If the variety of Tough-legs alongside Minnesota County State-Help Freeway (CASH) 1 is any indication, Baudette provides a smorgasbord. One look throughout an ice-rimed subject of osier dogwood shrubs, shiny crimson in winter, produces 5 Tough-legs. Most hover above potential prey, attribute of the birds. Some perch on roadside utility poles, fence posts, or twigs on the tops of bare-branched bushes. Each Tough-leg morphs, mild and darkish, are in view, though mild morphs, with their whitish plumage, appear extra frequent right here.

Bumping alongside CASH 1’s snow-ice-mud ruts in a four-wheel-drive SUV, we spot three or extra Tough-legs each quarter mile. In keeping with the invaluable guide Birds in Minnesota by Robert Janssen, 75 Tough-legs had been seen on March 18, 2006, in Wilkin County, on the western fringe of the state; 63 had been counted on April 1, 2011, alongside a rural street in Kittson County, in Minnesota’s northwestern nook.

This April’s Tough-legged Hawks on CASH 1 might have eclipsed these numbers. For birders and photographers who occur upon them, as we did, they’re a final raptor reward of winter.

Ideas from Pete Dunne for figuring out hawks in flight  

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