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Swainson's Hawk

Scientific Name:

Buteo swainsoni




Open areas with a few scattered trees for perching and nesting


North America from the great plains to the west coast. In the fall they migrate as far south as Argentina


Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

This species is


to the Truckee Meadows.


Swainson’s hawks are large hawks at around 22 inches in height and 3 pounds in weight. Swainson’s Hawks are just a bit smaller than Red tailed hawks, but they have a longer wingspan and appear more graceful in flight. The general color pattern of Swainson’s hawks is gray, white and brown but there are some regional variations, with those in the far western range having a darker brown to reddish brown underside, while those in eastern range have a lighter color pattern. While Swainson’s hawks will eat the usual hawk diet of rodents, rabbits and snakes while raising young, they have the colloquial moniker of the grasshopper hawk as grasshoppers are their favorite food. And while Swainson’s hawks will fly, and even hover over the ground in search of food, they are often seen running on the ground after grasshoppers, caterpillars and dragonflies.

Fast Facts:

  • Swainson’s hawks have the longest migration of all the North American hawks with those living in the far north migrating 14,000 miles seasonally

  • Did you know that a group of migrating or soaring hawks is called a kettle? And Swainson’s hawks are social, flocking together, soaring on warm air thermals creating kettles with tens of thousands of birds!

  • Swainson’s hawks are able to chase dragonflies, and see grasshoppers while flying, this requires remarkable eyesight. Human eyes have 200,000 retinal receptors per square millimeter, whereas the eyes of  hawks have 1 million!



Regina Hockett (research & content)

Caroline Stillitano (edits & page design)

Last Updated:

March 27, 2024 at 1:48:22 AM

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