Possible Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawk pairing in northeastern Washington


Here’s the full story. Last Saturday, March 14, my dad had to go to work in Colville, Washington north of Spokane, first time he’s had to go up there in two years. Sometimes I go with him if time provides. Unfortunately, last week I didn’t accompany him and while he was near Chewelah, he told me he saw two hawks that totally baffled him. Raptors aren’t his forte since he’s a herp, but he said two differently plumage hawks and the one had a white tail band. I showed him a couple illustrations in Wheeler’s guide to raptors and he was thinking it might’ve been Ferruginous. I doubted so yesterday, I joined him on his normal route to Spokane and we headed up to Chewelah after he was done with work.

I was keeping my eyes glued to the fields in the Chewelah valley and I used a 1/400 shutter on an adult Red-tailed on the south side of the valley. Five minutes later, my dad screams “There they are!” as he slams on the brakes. A cloud was passing over at the same time but I was scared our sudden motion would scare the hawks so I didn’t have enough time to dial down the shutter. I just shot and dealt with what I got. Lightened photos will be added. Anyway, the hawks weren’t hard for me to identify and it was an adult female Rough-legged Hawk and 2nd Year (based on retained remiges) Red-tailed Hawk.

I found the behavior of the hawks quite interesting. Initially, the two hawks were perched in a small bush beside the train tracks and they were quite close together. When they did fly, the RLHA flew along the train tracks to another bush and the RTHA flew to the road and landed on a road marker. When I was done photographing them, we turned around and the RTHA was flushed again and he flew directly to the RLHA and settled beside her. The fact the two hawks being so close together leads me to believe that perhaps we have an unlikely pairing. No copulation was observed but all other behaviors reminded me of all RTHA pairs I’ve seen. Now if it’s true these two hawks will stay together and perhaps build a nest and raise a family of hybrids, will they do it in this valley (especially when they haven’t moved much from last Saturday) or will the RTHA migrate with her to the north. Thoughts? Opinions?


Wow, cool experience! I don’t know much about these but you are very lucky to have seen it if they are a couple. :-) Hope you find answers!

As far as I know, hawks don’t typically migrate in family groups at all. I would expect, if they are paired up, that they’ll stay there.


I posted the story to Hawk Watch and Neil Paprocki thinks its nothing more than prey-rich field so the raptors aren’t territorial. But we’ll see.


not territorial and flying and settling next to each other more than once seem different to me. I believe a lot about the possibilities for raptor behavior that I may not have before I watched in disbelief as a red squirrel taunted a broad-wing as it chased the squirrel up and down the trunks of two trees. The squirrel had young I had seen that week so I think that explains the over the top harassment on its part but the hawk visibly exhausted itself taking the bait. I’m assuming it was a young bird not making a good caloric calculation but it changed my perception of what happens “out there.” Do we know about this type of pair happening elsewhere?

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