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Alberta is updating its plan to boost an endangered hawk population

The ferruginous hawk has been classified as an endangered species in Alberta since 2006. (Gordon Court/Alberta Government - image credit)
The ferruginous hawk has been classified as an endangered species in Alberta since 2006. (Gordon Court/Alberta Government - image credit)

The ferruginous hawk, known as North America's largest hawk, has been endangered since 2006 under Alberta's Wildlife Act. Now, the Alberta government is updating its plan to improve the predator's status and move it off the list for good.

The bird of prey lives in the grassland natural region in province's southeast.

Since pre-settlement, the species population has decreased 40 per cent, according to the government's ferruginous hawk recovery plan. There was a dramatic decline in the number of ferruginous hawks between 1992 and 2000.

As of 2015, there were 600 to 700 pairs, which the government highlights as a low. The numbers have slowly increased since then.

The updated plan will put a focus on the species' biggest threats, which include habitat loss, habitat disturbance, reduced nesting opportunities, reduced prey populations, increased numbers of competitors, indirect human-caused mortality and climate change.

Alberta's grassland region is in the southeast of the province.
Alberta's grassland region is in the southeast of the province.

The ferruginous hawk is found in Alberta's grassland region, which is in the southeast of the province. (Alberta Ferruginous Hawk Recovery Plan/Alberta Government )

Strategies for the recovery of the species involve protecting nest sites, reducing human disturbance, maintaining existing native grasslands and pasture lands on public and private land, and maintaining and enhancing prey populations.

"Ensuring grasslands are maintained for species like ferruginous hawks is crucial,' said Brad Downey, a senior biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association, in a news release.

"Continued support and collaboration from landowners, along with society's desire to see ferruginous hawks thrive, provides a promising future for this and other species as long as we maintain intact grasslands."

The plan's recovery goal is to bring Alberta's long-term average population to 1,300 pairs of ferruginous hawks. The shorter term goals include bringing the population to 800 pairs and maintaining the current population.

While the updated plan document noted previous efforts have slightly increased the population, it said the updates are needed for long-term recovery.

Alberta's Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz said the plan is "a collaborative, multi-year conservation effort between [the ministry] and multiple partners."

The government said the plan was developed and will be undertaken by Indigenous communities, industry, conservation groups and other stakeholders.

The ferruginous hawk makes the grassland region its home in Alberta and lives exclusively in the Great Plains of North America.

Nationally, the hawk was listed as a "species of concern" in 2007. In 2009, it was listed as threatened.

Alberta is playing a role in helping the federal government develop its own ferruginous hawk recovery strategy.