Swainson’s Hawk With Breakfast

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Swainson’s Hawks are seasonal residents in southern Arizona.  Mostly, they don’t live here at all.  A rather small breeding population resides here for a few months each summer in the grasslands southeast of Tucson and in the agricultural areas to Tucson’s northwest and southeast.  The small seasonal population of these hawks is augmented enormously in fall and spring when, for a few weeks, thousands of these birds pass through the area on their way to their winter homes in Argentina or their summer homes on the northern plains.

These birds are slightly smaller cousins of Red-tailed Hawks.  To my eye they are somewhat more attractive than Red Tails, having a slimmer profile and, in some individuals, considerably more colorful plumage.  Swainson’s Hawks have among the most varied plumage among buteos.  Individuals show up in shades and patterns of white, gray, russet, beige and brown.  No two of these birds look exactly alike.

Recently, I photographed one of these hawks while it was dining on freshly caught prey, apparently a rodent of some sort.

This is a particularly handsome bird with plumage that is colorful even for a Swainson’s Hawk.

The hawk is easy to identify.  The bright yellow  base of its bill is specific to the species.  So also is the dark bib of feathers on the hawk’s chest.  Many (not all) Swainson’s Hawks have bibs although the color varies from one individual to the next. The long and fairly slender wings also are an identifying characteristic.  Swainson’s Hawks’ Red Tail cousins have shorter, broader wings.

Watching this bird devour its prey is a reminder of life’s brutality.  Hawks must kill to survive.  Although some might consider them to be cruel it’s important to realize that without predators like this bird we’d very quickly be overrun with rodents.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f6.3 @ 1/2000.


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