Brad Downey- Senior Biologist, Alberta Conservation Association
Walking across the open prairies in mid May with clear blue skies and a slight breeze carrying the music of grassland songbirds in the air reminds me of why I became a biologist. These are the days in late spring that I get to reconnect with the landscape, remember all my bird ID calls (including the Endangered chestnut-collared longspur), and visit several landowners who have been caring for the land which affords me this opportunity.
One of the species that I’m looking for this day is the ferruginous hawk, which is an Endangered species in Alberta. Ferruginous are Alberta’s largest hawk and are often seen soaring above the open prairies looking for their favourite food, Richardson’s ground squirrels. These hawks are important to the ranching community, as they provide a natural means to help control ground squirrels. Ferruginous hawks are one of our more charismatic grassland species with their rusty coloration, full white front, bright yellow cere (fleshy covering at base of upper beak), and reddish legs making them easily distinguishable from other hawks on the prairies. Population surveys in Alberta had estimated only 643 pairs in the province back in 2010, but recent surveys in 2022 have seen this increase to an estimated 1,417 pairs. The increase in numbers has likely been assisted through secure nesting sites being install in appropriate locations throughout the grasslands.
Being a large hawk of the open prairies their survival, along with many of the grassland songbirds I heard today, are intrinsically tied to native grasslands and the millions of acres managed through cattle grazing. Without these long-term well managed cattle operations many of the wildlife that we enjoy seeing would no longer have a place to call home. Ensuring these species still have a home relies on us as a society to protect our grasslands and support our beef industry so they can continue maintaining our grasslands for years to come.
To follow this years ferruginous hawk families, visit https://www.ab-conservation.com/wildlife-cameras/ferruginous-hawk