Swainson’s Hawks – I Watch Them, They Watch Me

For the past few days I have been watching the Swainson’s Hawk Family. I believe it consists of Mom, Dad, and two hungry, uneducated youths. Sporadically during the day, the youths start to whine for food, and they don’t let up until a meal is delivered. It kind of reminds me of when my own children still lived at home…

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To make life more difficult for the parents, the hawk kids are always on the move, sometimes perching on a hay bale, sometimes in the top of a tree, and sometimes on a post – but invariably about 1/2 mile or more from where the parents are hunting. This means Mom and Dad Hawk have a general idea of what “street” the kids are hanging out on, but no idea what the house number is.

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The other day I was standing on the road in front of our property taking pictures of the golden hay bales glowing in the late afternoon sun. All of a sudden the hawks started to arrive from the woods beyond the hay field.

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Some took up positions in the top of some trees in my front yard. One bird chose a poplar branch which was just a bit too floppy to support its weight. The branch tipped and swayed, while the bird did its best to readjust its hold and maintain its balance, all the while still calling for someone or something.

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Then one of the hawks (I think it was mom or dad) made a few long, gliding passes about 30 feet above my head. I don’t know if it was inspecting me out of curiosity or whether it was warning me to go away. I took a few pictures, then retreated into our woods.

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The Swainson’s Hawk parents will continue to feed their offspring for a few more weeks, then the young will head off on their own. In about a month, all of these hawks will start their annual fall migration to the pampas of South America, a distance of about 7000 miles. Next spring the same pair of hawks will return to this area to start another family (assuming they both survive and the fields around here provide enough rodents to eat).

The Feather Files
Name: Buteo swainsoni
Species: Swainson’s Hawk
Native to and Migration: In fall they fly to their Argentine wintering grounds in one of the longest migrations of any raptor. They form flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel.
Date Seen: June, 2012
Location: a few miles North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada