It won’t be long before Swainson’s Hawks start to migrate to South America and some may already have started their journey south. Their breeding habitat is prairie and dry grasslands throughout western North America and they are named after William Swainson who was a British naturalist. Swainson’s will breed as far north as southwestern Yukon and east-central Alaska.
Adult Swainson’s Hawk in the Centennial Valley, Montana
Swainson’s Hawks are also known as Grasshopper Hawks or Locust Hawks because they are very fond of locusts and grasshoppers and will scarf them down whenever or wherever they are available. This past summer I have seen flocks of 70 or more Swainson’s in a single field gorging themselves on grasshoppers until they spotted us and lifted off to form a whirling kettle of raptors in the sky.
Swainson’s Hawks have three color morphs, light, intermediate and dark and I enjoy seeing and photographing them all. In Utah and Idaho I see a lot of Swainson’s in agricultural areas that are irrigated and not so many of them when fields are dry farmed. The bird above was perched in a fir tree near a small group of houses near Henry’s Lake in Idaho after about 5 minutes the bird lifted off and flew towards some grassy fields near the lake.
I enjoy seeing Swainson’s Hawks in juvenile, sub-adult and adult plumage, to me they are all beautiful no matter what phases of plumage they are in.
Swainson’s Hawks probably have the longest migration of any North American raptor, they can travel as far as 14,ooo miles and each migration may last as long as two months. The hawks ride on thermals as they make their way to Central America where almost the entire population travels through the Isthmus of Panama, I wish I had been in Panama City in September or October instead of in March so I could have witnessed the spectacular sight of hundreds or thousands of Swainson’s Hawks passing overhead.
Yes, the Swainson’s Hawks will be leaving soon but I have had a great time with them this summer and it isn’t over yet!