Chewing lice infesting avian hosts can significantly affect host health and fitness. Here, we present quantitative data on host body condition and louse abundance observed from 121 Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) sampled across the North American nonbreeding range. Among hawks examined, louse prevalence was 71%, with a mean abundance and intensity of 9.1 and 12.8 lice, respectively. We identified lice as Craspedorrhynchus sp., either Craspedorrhynchus dilatatus or Craspedorrhynchus taurocephalus, dependent on future taxonomic revision of the genus. Female and juvenile hawks had greater louse intensity and prevalence compared with male and adult hawks, respectively. Host body condition, measured as a breast muscle score (keel score), was negatively correlated with louse abundance after controlling for host age and sex. Possible explanations for these patterns include the following: sex-biased louse transfer between adults and nestlings, when female nestlings experience increased transfer loads; body size differences between males and females, when females are larger than males in each life stage; and preening limitations in females and juveniles, when both spend more time hunting and less time preening relative to adult males. Our results corroborate previous studies suggesting that the primary sources of intraspecific variation in louse abundance are host body size and preening limitations.

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