Swainson’s (Hawks) Southern Sojourn

Swainson’s (Hawks) Southern Sojourn


It is time to head south. You can feel it in the air.

If you were a Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainson) you would be flexing your wings a little more than just for the jaunt around the prairie parklands every day seeking out grasshoppers and crickets, supplemented by ground squirrels and snakes during nesting season. These latter delectable delights are brought back to the nestlings for a special treat thus tying hawk nest selection to the availability of small mammals.  You would have spent the spring and summer hunting primarily from a perch. You were the feathered one on the fence posts keeping watch over a territorial patch, waiting to pounce on, or swoop for, that sizeable but succulent dragonfly specimen.  Sometimes you can be confused with another well-known buteo (that’s the entire group of broad-winged hawks) competing for similar nesting habitat, the Red-Tailed Hawk. They tend to wait for their prey on higher locations, Red-Tails prefer telephone poles more likely than fence posts.

Swainson’s Hawks are the longest migrants of any North American raptor (about 22,000 km over two months) and the ones keeping watch over the north American prairies will be heading out for the pampas of Argentina until the last leaves in October. Each clear day with a wind in the right direction of travel these birds gain altitude soaring in circles on a rising thermal.  They can be seen in groups and by the time they reach the Isthmus of Panamá everyone reacquaints for a hawk party. Not really, but you get the picture, concentrations of Swainson’s Hawks making their way through the narrowest of passageways on to South America.

The final chapter to this story was almost written in the 1970’s when scientists realized the sharp population decline in these magnificent birds was directly related to use of the insecticide DDT by Argentine farmers. Luckily, thanks to better agricultural practices today, we can enjoy their presence in the fall migrating skies.


bird photography Calgary
©heather simonds Hawk Warning
swainson hawk bird Calgary
©heather simonds Red-Tailed Hawk Flight
swainson hawk bird
©heather simonds Swainson Hawk Lunch

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