Description ADULT MALE Light morph has gray-brown upperparts and pale head. Underparts are pale but streaked heavily dark brown on breast, with dark feathers on flanks. In flight, from below, wings look pale except for dark carpal patch, tips, and trailing edge, while tail is white with broad, dark subterminal band; from above, tail is white with dark barring toward tip. Dark morph looks uniformly dark when perched; in flight, looks all dark from above, but from below, note whitish flight feathers (except for wingtips and trailing edge) and whitish tail with dark subterminal band. ADULT FEMALE Light morph is similar to male, but note dark belly patch and (in flight) more contrasting black and white pattern on tail and on underwings (except for streaked brown underwing coverts); from above, tail is white with broad black terminal band. Dark morph is similar to dark morph male, but plumage is browner; underwing coverts are noticeably paler than dark carpal patches. JUVENILE Light morph is similar to adult female, but in flight note cleaner, paler underwing coverts and gray (not black) subterminal band on tail seen from below; from above, wing coverts and inner primaries are paler than rest of upper wing. Dark morph is similar to dark morph female, but with paler subterminal band on tail underside.
Dimensions Length: 19-24" (48-61 cm); Wngspn: 4' 4" (1.3 m)
Habitat Breeds across Arctic North America; winters from southern Canada southward when widespread, but seldom numerous in open country including farmland; prefers marshes and open tundra.
Observation Tips A hovering Buteo in winter, with a pale upper tail, is an obvious contender for this species.
Range Florida, Plains, Western Canada, New England, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Alaska, Texas, Eastern Canada, Southwest, Northwest, California
Voice Mostly silent.
Discussion Large long-winged raptor with feathered legs and dainty (by Buteo standards) bill. Hunts at low level for rodents and small birds; often hovers. Perches for long periods and looks plump, with wings roughly same length as tail. Plumage is variable, but in all light morphs white upper tail contrasts with otherwise dark upperparts. Sexes are dissimilar.