Juvenile Swainson’s Hawks

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Before beginning today’s post, a correction.  In yesterday’s post a I showed an image of a female dragonfly that I identified as possibly being a female Roseate Skimmer.  Last evening I was informed by Rich Bailowitz, via his wife, Elaine Greenapple, that the female is much more likely a female Wandering Glider than it is a female Roseate Skimmer.  There are similarities between the two but also significant differences.  Rich literally wrote the book on Arizona dragonflies, so I trust his judgment on this.  Thanks!

Now, to today’s post.  I confess to being somewhat of a Swainson’s Hawk addict.  I find them to be among the most beautiful of buteos — colorful and graceful at once.  Observing them is very much a seasonal pleasure as they migrate away from here in the cooler months from October into March.  Each autumn and spring, many thousands of these hawks pass through southern Arizona as part of their migration.  A few remain for the summer and they breed and raise offspring here.

The fall migration appears to have begun.  Recently, I’ve observed an uptick in the local population, which suggests that our summer residents are being augmented by the vanguard of the great wave of migrating Swainson’s.  The migration will reach a peak around the fourth week of September.

The hawks that I’ve seen recently include several very young birds that fledged this summer.  It’s impossible to say with certainty that these young hawks were born locally but I suspect that to be the case.  Recently, I photographed some youngsters in the vicinity of Whitewater Draw, a marshland located about 70 miles or so southeast of Tucson.

The extremely bright plumage and pale eye of this bird strongly suggest that it is a fledgling/juvenile Swainson’s Hawk.  Its behavior is also that of a very young bird.  Fledgling and juvenile hawks frequently are less averse to human presence than are adult birds.  An adult Swainson’s Hawk is much less likely to perch out in the open, as this bird is perching, and allow a photographer to approach it as this bird allowed me to do.

Here’s another fledgling in flight.  These birds develop their flying skills amazingly fast.  They’re adept flyers within days of taking their first flights.  This bird displays not only the bright and heavily marked plumage of a youngster but also shows off the Swainson’s Hawk’s trademark long, narrow, and pointed wings.

Developing flying skills in a hurry is of critical importance to these youngsters.  Within a few weeks all of the Swainson’s Hawks in our area are going to be headed for points south.  Eventually, the Swainson’s migration reaches Argentina, where the hawks stay for a few months before returning north.

Nature shows no mercy to the weak and unskilled.  These young birds must fly every bit as far as will the older generations of hawks.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting. First and fourth images, ISO 500,  f6.3 @ 1/1600,  Second and third images, ISO 640, f7.1 @ 1/2000.


One Reply to “Juvenile Swainson’s Hawks”

  1. Tom Munson says:

    Love these young, Birds. Great work, Steve.

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