Swainson’s Hawk — The Return
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I’ve completely ceased my forays after wildlife while this pandemic besets us. I’m concentrating on photographing insects and invertebrates in our backyard, and what other wildlife I can find within walking distance of our home, and will post images as they become available. I do have a small inventory of photos of wildlife that I took on short road trips during the past couple of weeks and today, I’m featuring some of them.
Every spring I await with anticipation the return of Swainson’s Hawks to our area. For my money, Swainson’s Hawks are among the most graceful and beautiful of all raptors. While others may argue that point, I doubt if anyone would disagree that these are very beautiful birds.
About 10 days ago I sighted my first Swainson’s Hawk of this spring and I eagerly photographed it.
As is always the case when I encounter one of these hawks, I was blown away by its extraordinary beauty.
Swainson’s Hawks spend their summers on North America’s western plains. Southern Arizona has a small breeding population of these raptors. Most, however, travel to the north of this area. In fall, these hawks, including our local residents, migrate all the way to the pampas of Argentina, a one-way trip of about 6,000 miles (about 9,600 km), making them one of North America’s champion migrators. In migration, Swainson’s Hawks are very gregarious, sometimes joining up in flocks of many hundreds of birds.
These hawks are just slightly smaller than Red-tailed Hawks. They have a somewhat leaner, and to my eye, more graceful, build than Red Tails. They have the most varied plumage of any North American buteo. There are pale individuals, such as this one, intermediate birds, and very dark-colored Swainson’s Hawks. I’ll post some images of a very dark colored bird in a few days. All of them share a common feature, that being a “bib” of contrasting feathers on their breasts (the “bib” can be very difficult to make out on the really dark individuals).
Another defining feature of these birds is the bright yellow patch of skin at the base of their beaks. Red Tails usually have a yellow area but it is much less distinct that that displayed by Swainson’s Hawks.
In a typical year I would capture dozens of images of these hawks as they migrate through our area or claim nesting territory. I won’t be able to do that this year, but I was fortunate in capturing images of a few individuals. I’ll feature more images in days to come.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/2000.