Wildlife Spotlight: Swainson’s Hawk
by Dan Potts, Salt Lake County Fish & Game Association
Most folk think this large raptor circling overhead is either an eagle or vulture. Slightly larger than a red-tailed hawk, and not possessing that distinctive red tail, instead this bird has a distinct dark banding on its tail. Although it is often found in a range of color morphs, from light-colored to the darker ones usually found here, it can easily be distinguished from an eagle by its pointy wing tips and dark chest.
Both bald and golden eagles have wing tips resembling human fingers. Although they also hold their wings in a distinct “V” shape, often “teetering” like turkey vultures, they do not have naked, red heads. A classic high-soaring, circling buteo hawk, the Swainson’s is one of the easiest birds of prey to identify.
Often spotted sitting atop of a telephone pole or tall tree (see my photo) usually located in larger open spaces, and one of the most common soaring birds in the West, this hawk mostly feeds on rodents, and is not really capable of catching most birds. Note its very small bill compared to other hawks.
As they become increasingly habituated to the presence of humans, they have become less afraid of us, hence my ability to get so close to photograph the one in this article. I find that kind of opportunity great for novice photographers like myself!