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Swainson’s Hawk Facts

Common Name(s): Just the Swainson’s Hawk

Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni

Approximate Wing Span: 4 ft.

Approximate Life Span: 20 – 24 years

Natural Habitat: Grassland


Swainson’s Hawks are known as a classic western bird of prey colored with white, gray and brown feathers. These raptors are characterized as very large hawks (buteos) and have fairly broad wings. Even though they are classified as buteos, Swainson’s Hawks are generally slimmer and less hefty than other buteos.

The Swainson’s Hawk has a variable color pattern during its different life stages making it quite difficult to spot. However, most of these hawks tend to have a dark or reddish-brown chest and brown or deep-gray upperparts. They also tend to have white wing linings with blackish flight feathers. Lastly, most females tend to have brown heads while males have gray heads.


These hawks typically reside in grasslands and sage flats in the American West during the summer. Once summer transitions into winter, these hawks migrate to South America. They typically nest in a tree that is the only tree visible for miles.

Food & Hunting

Swainson’s Hawks mainly prey on insects and ground mammals however are known to eat snakes, lizards even other birds of prey. More specifically, these raptors eat ground squirrels, gophers, voles, rodent mice, rabbits, bats, owls, crickets, grasshoppers and dragonflies. They often catch insects on the wing or in flight.

These hawks also are known to forage for food on foot by running after small mammals and insects with wings partly outstretched. They also soar over grasslands, prairies and pastures for prey and even have been known to stand on manmade structures like fences.

Behavior and Habits

Swainson’s Hawks exhibit a type of courting behavior known as “sky dancing”. This behavior consists of the male and female soaring high above a nest site followed by the males making steep dives toward their nest site then returning to his partner. Breeding Swainson’s Hawks also are very aggressive around their nests by chasing off other birds of prey. In fact, these raptors are known to take over nest sites owned by other birds of prey. What bullies!

In Captivity – Feeding Habits

As stated, Swainson’s Hawks usually eat small ground mammals in the wild and much more types of food. Thus, when these hawks are rescued they usually are fed thawed frozen rodents.


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