Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk Landing Practice

Landing on relatively small elevated perches must be one of the more difficult skills young raptors must learn.


swainson's hawk 1573 ron dudley

Last September I spent time with two sibling juvenile Swainson’s Hawks near Monida, Montana as they were still honing their flight and landing skills. They spent most of their time hanging out together in the same general area and waiting for their parents to bring them food. They could fly well but landing was another story altogether because each perch presented a different set of conditions and challenges. While they were waiting they often practiced takeoffs and landings from/on power poles, fence posts and the ground. One of them had an injured leg (the bird on the left in this photo) so it spent more time on the ground than its sibling did.

Here the hawk on the right is preparing to take off and land on the post on the left. I thought it would be visually interesting for viewers to see every shot I got from takeoff to landing so there are 17 images in this post. From this point on I’ll provide very little text – the images speak for themselves.



swainson's hawk 1592 ron dudley

Notice the intense focus of the hawk on the top of the post from the very beginning and throughout the process.



swainson's hawk 1593 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1594 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1595 ron dudley





swainson's hawk 1596 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1597 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1598 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1599 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1600 ron dudley





swainson's hawk 1601 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1602 ron dudley




swainson's hawk 1603 ron dudley

Contact! At this point we can see two claws of the right foot on top of the post but the bird’s flight speed was slow and its “aim” was a little low so it apparently didn’t have enough momentum for its inertia to carry its center of gravity over the post so…



swainson's hawk 1604 ron dudley

the bird dropped down a little on the post…



swainson's hawk 1605 ron dudley

and had to struggle as it used its wings and feet to pull its body up onto the post.




swainson's hawk 1609 ron dudley

Even when it got up there it was still unstable and had to use its wings for balance.

I’m sure you noticed that the injured sibling watched the entire process intently. Maybe it learned something by doing so…



swainson's hawk 1632 ron dudley

Once the young bird stabilized on the post it spent quite a while there and soon after I took this photo it leisurely stretched both wings. Notice that the other bird is now laying down on the ground in deference to its injured leg. It often did just that, though the other bird never did. There’s more about the injured sibling here if you have the interest.

I realize that this is a huge blog post (17 images) and I hope that didn’t cause loading problems for my readers. But I thought there would be interest in seeing the entire process from takeoff to landing in this very short flight.



  • These birds were never nervous in my presence. They were adjacent to a road, I stayed in my pickup and they simply ignored me, as did their parents.
  • Techs for these images are: 1/2500 – 1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon  7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

26 comments to Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk Landing Practice

  • Charlotte Norton

    It’s an awesome series Ron! Thanks for sharing!

  • Debbie Trainer

    I loved this series Ron. It is great to see how a young hawk learns to fly and land. Normally the process goes so fast that I miss all of this. Thanks for posting the entire event.

  • Glenn Goodrich

    FASCINATING sequence on “Take off’s and landings.” You really know your birds and subjects to pull off these marvelous sequences.
    I remember in pilot training, it takes about 100 practice landings to be able to really “nail” every one.
    This bird was a little short of his 100!

    • Glenn, I probably watched these birds land nearly that many times in the days I was there. They were getting it down but still needed a little work…

  • I held my breath.
    I am so glad it very almost nailed this landing and hopefully learnt from it.
    And I really hope the injured one not only survived but found a way to thrive.

  • Mikal Deese

    Any landing you can walk away from was a good one, graceful or not. Thank you for posting the sequence!

  • Nancy Collins

    Great series Ron! It gives a glimpse of just how many steps are involved in the developmental process. Then think how many times it is done over and over again to master it!

  • Dick Ashford

    Hi Ron,
    Nice sequence, thank you as always. Pilots earn their wings by attending flight school prior to being entrusted with solo flight. Birds have wings, but they “earn” them on the job. BTW, your comments reminded me of one of my favorite songs. Once a year I present a three-part series on “Hawks” through my city’s Parks & Rec department, and the third evening focuses on “Hawks and Society”. It covers many subjects including poetry and music. I always include “The Eagle and the Hawk”, by John Denver; I believe the song was written in conjunction with the Morley Nelson documentary to which you referred. I would have loved to meet Morley, if for no other reason than to say thank you. I try to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey every year and I always play the song en route. Thanks for the memories!

    • “I believe the song was written in conjunction with the Morley Nelson documentary to which you referred.”

      I know that the song was included in the documentary, Dick. It’s a special song. As you know, Morley Nelson was a legend.

  • I was thinking “NAILED IT” then saw that the bird just missed it. I enjoyed it.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Did not like this series!!! Was actually holding my breath as I scrolled through it. That young bird was too darned close to the barbed wire and all I could think of was those images of the dead owls hung up to die on the damned, evil stuff……a different ending, thank god, in this series but made the bile rise….

  • Judy

    Great sequence to slow down the action and see what the hawk is actually doing! 🙂 No loading issues here and I’m on DLS

  • Ron that was awesome … thanks for all the pics … no problems loading here and I’m on top of a mountain right now … not a cell tower in sight!!! off to read about the injured birdie now .. fingers crossed for a happy ending to the story …

  • Laura Culley

    Flying and landing are two entirely different skill sets! One of my cherished memories is sharing a moment with the late Morley Nelson at a gathering of falconers in Boise, Idaho in celebration of the peregrine delisting. He’d taken us on a boat ride down the Snake River and we stopped an an area that gave us a view of several prairie falcon eyries along with a golden eagle eyrie. While the rest of the group was all agog at the prairie falcons, Morley and I watched the golden eagle nest, just in time to see one of their kids fledge. It looked a lot like a human kid riding a bicycle for the first time. The takeoff was inspired by a gust of wind while the eagle kid was flapping its wings and jumping (practicing), and while the flight went well, the landing on the side of the canyon wasn’t so graceful and looked more like a poorly controlled crash. Immediately following were the screams that sounded a lot like, “Mooooooom! What do I do now? This is scary!” What a magical time! I still can’t believe the timing was just right.

    • I’d have loved to have witnessed what you did, Laura.

      Do you know Nancy DeWitt? (I don’t know her maiden name). She worked with Morley for years and admires him very much. Nancy and her husband Jim are good friends of mine.

      I never met Morley but I used to show the documentary “The Eagle And The Hawk” featuring Morley and Nell Newman (daughter of Paul Newman and Joann Woodward) to my zoology students. I watched it so many times I felt like I did know him…

  • Jeff Tufts

    Great sequence Ron. The photos are a reminder that just “being a bird” is not all that easy.

    • It sure isn’t, Jeff. I had similar thoughts often as I watched these hawks learning the ropes. I still think about the injured bird and wonder if it survived.