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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Feb 15, 2010

Swainsons Hawk

Swainson's Hawk soaring

The Swainson's Hawk is, at least so far, my constant birding companion.  Meaning that this is a bird I can count on seeing almost all of the time, every year.  The one place that I have found where I am guaranteed to see Hawks of any kind is near a golf course beside the freeway, especially during migration.  Here I have seen Red Tailed Hawks, kettles of Hawks in the sky, a Ferruginous Hawk, and of course the Northern Harrier.

The Swainson's Hawk has made this area his hunting territory.  Though it is sad to say, that because of the enthusiastic killing of Gophers in the area, as well as the expansion of the industrial area through construction, I now see the bird less often and in less numbers. This is upsetting to me of course, as there was a time when I would have seen five or six Hawks hunting the area at one time, and not always of the same species.  Where  as before I would see Northern  Harriers fairly often hunting there, for example, in the past  two years I have seen them infrequently, because one of the larger open fields is now also cluttered with equipment and industrial parts.

Swainson's Female above

The Swainson's Hawk is a beautiful bird that is, however, not so easily persuaded to abandon his territory, or his hunt.  I have seen this particular bird soaring high in the sky during a severe storm.  In  fact it flew all around me that day and in close proximity, which allowed for some really good pictures, and left me feeling elated despite being soaked.  These Hawks are close to a size with the Red Tailed Hawks and are often confused with one.  I know, because I've made the mistake myself.

During one exciting, and very lucky bird watch last summer, this Hawk struck the fence behind me to land and perch, only to be startled back into flight immediately upon sighting me. I was sitting with my back to the fence, a couple of feet behind it, and on the slope of a hill , so I guess the bird didn't see me til it landed. I didn't see it either, and of course, was startled as well by it's powerful impact on the fence, but I did manage to get one or two close images of the hawk as it launched itself back toward the safety of the sky.

Swainson's Hawk in flight

As you can easily see by the image on the left, this is a fairly large Hawk, and fortunately for me it is a gentle, not an aggressive Hawk.  Although this bird is not precisely shy, he does not like me to get too close and has come to recognize me.  As, on those days when I attempt to get too close on more than one occasion, he will quite simply disappear for a while, although if I am patient  he will return.  One of the main reasons I jumped on the chance to purchase a pair of digital binoculars was so I would not disturb this magnificent bird unduly.

Although I must admit that my love of Hawks tempts me quite often to get a personal closeup view, which admittedly would not be too bright a thing to attempt in the case of Goshawks, for instance, since it is likely to attack.  In this case I would obviously have to be prepared by wearing a helmet of some sort.

The Swainson's Hawk is easily recognized, well most of the time anyway.  Because within the species there are color morphs.  For the most part however, it has dark bib-like markings around the throat, a light patch under the beak, a light colored chest mottled with pale brown, and a dark brown, almost black back.  He has broad bands of brown outlining the underside of its wings and edging his tail.   His wings are broad and pointed.

He will perch on traffic lights to hunt, but is also comfortable perching on a mound of dirt on the ground.  Most often however, this hawk is seen gliding on air currents or hovering briefly over an area where his prey is spotted. I have also seen Swainson's  Hawks hunt in pairs.  They  apparently have very specific and unusual eating habits depending on the time of year. During the breeding season their diet includes Gophers, Rabbits and other rodents,  however, once they migrate to their non-breeding grounds way to the south of the world, they survive on a diet of Crickets, Locusts and reptiles.

Beautiful Swainson's Hawk

Here in Edmonton, they hunt along the freeways, golf course, the river valley, the local creek areas, or any tract of land that isn't in use.  I shot these photographs while I was sitting on the hill next to the freeway, across from the golf course on a patch of  unused  land edging an industrial area. This gentle Hawk, unfortunately, is declining in numbers and listed as sensitive.  Meaning the Swainson's Hawk is not yet threatened with extinction, but we do need to keep an eye on it's numbers.  This is one of the reasons I get upset when someone decides to kill all the Gophers off in the area. Especially since the Gopher colonies are in places where they really do no harm, and some Hawk species are very dependent on Gophers as a food source.

If you  wish to be able to accurately identify this bird in the sky or want to learn more about it,  please follow these links:



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