Swainson's Hawk

photo by Andrew McKinlay CC BY-NC

Swainson's Hawk (19-22 in) are a common sight in summer, soaring over the prairies and open grasslands of western North America. They prefer wide open spaces where they can easily spot ground squirrels and other small rodents, their preferred food when they are breeding.

Swainson's Hawk can vary in color, but they usually have a dark breast, a light-colored belly, and brown or gray upper parts. Most males have gray heads, while most females have brown heads. The large white patches edged with black flight feathers on their underwings help to identify them when they are in flight.

They eat lots of large insects (grasshoppers, dragonflies), hence their alternate name of Grasshopper Hawk. They build their large, loose nests in treetops.

Could it be? Swainson's Hawk are slimmer and longer-winged than other hawks. Red-tailed Hawk have shorter, wider wings without the light-dark contrast on the underside. Ferruginous Hawk have a light-coloured chest and abdomen and are entirely white under the wings. Rough-legged Hawk have a black-and-white tail pattern and feathery legs.

Did you know? Swainson's Hawks' long migration to Argentina can take up to two months. Their large migratory flocks number in the tens of thousands and they may travel for several days without feeding.

See Also: Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Merlin, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk