Soaring majestically on summer thermals, the Swainson’s Hawk is a graceful buteo of the Great Plains. It gets its name from an early 19th century illustrator of natural history, Englishman William Swainson.
Found mostly east of the Continental Divide, the species’ light phase is quite elegant. This narrow-winged hawk has dark flight feathers, white underwings and belly, a finely barred tail and a handsome rufous bib.
Once a mated pair finds a site near the top of a solitary tree, they build a large stick nest and aggressively defend their isolated home. They feed the chicks a steady diet of rodents, rabbits and reptiles.
When not in breeding season they voraciously eat a large amount of insects. They devour so many that in some rural regions of North America they are referred to as a grasshopper hawk or a locust hawk.
The most remarkable behavior displayed by this amazing raptor is the astonishing, yearly migration to Argentina. In late summer they flock up by the thousands and the entire population flys to South America en masse.
As the birds make their incredible journey they’re funneled through Central America and by the time they reach Panama City, the sky becomes darkened by the feathered horde. I’ve never witnessed such an event so I can only imagine what a surreal sight it must be.
|A graceful buteo|
|Named after William Swainson|
|The light phase is elegant|
|Grasshopper of Locust Hawk|
|An amazing raptor|
|The birds make an incredible migration|
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