Yesterday’s Swainson’s Hawks

Yesterday was a banner day for Swainson’s Hawks in northern Utah. They seemed to be everywhere on fence posts, power poles, trees and in the sky.


This beautiful dark morph was the first one I encountered. It had been cloudy until shortly before I pulled up on the bird just after dawn but just before I snapped this shot a hole in the clouds opened up and lit up the bird with golden light with the background still in deep shade. I love the effect of the soft, warm light on the chocolate-colored bird on a gnarly old wooden post against the very dark background.



This light morph wasn’t having a good morning. There was some kind of debris stuck on its face at the base of its bill and the bird was quite irritated by it. It’s a little difficult to see here but…



when the hawk tried to scratch it off it became more visible. I suspect it might have been a small clump of sticky white feathers from prey – Swainson’s Hawks do occasionally take small birds to supplement their more common small mammal and insect prey. There also appears to be some of those feathers stuck on one of its talons. The hawk scratched at its face repeatedly while I was with it.



Some of the hawks were exceedingly tame and reluctant to fly. At times large noisy trucks would go whizzing by within about 20′ of a bird on a fencepost and it wouldn’t even flinch. This one stayed put until it chose to…



leave for its own reasons…



and I caught it in a posture I like as it did so.

In ten years of photographing birds I’ve never seen such a dense concentration of Swainson’s Hawks (or any other buteo species). In some areas there was one or two hawks perched on every power pole with another one perched on a wire just a few feet away.

It was a Swainson’s kind of morning!


PS – Please let me know if you see anything strange in the formatting (or anything else) of today’s post. For some unknown reason my WordPress editing screen has gone all wonky and I’m having a difficult time composing the post and predicting how it will look when it’s published. For that reason I ran out of time so I haven’t included image techs.




41 comments to Yesterday’s Swainson’s Hawks

  • Charlotte Norton

    Absolutely sensational series Ron!!


  • April Olson

    Beautiful photos. I love the light on the dark morph. We had a similar day, in probably the same area last year in July. We lost count there were so many Swainson’s.

  • It sounds, and looks like an absolutely wonderful start to the day.
    Word Press hasn’t caused any viewing problems on my end.

  • Laura Culley

    Oh, I meant to add that the feather on this bird’s beak could also be one of its own. Here in Arizona, the molt is on and at least my birds start with the down feathers and then move on to the flight/body feathers while the down feathers continue. This time of year, I always have at least one down feather on me at all times! And those down feathers are particularly pesky. Sometimes I’d swear you could hold aircraft together with those things. They’re really sticky!

    • Yes, it certainly could be its own feather, Laura. But I went for the other option partly because these birds are still migrating and I doubt (though I don’t know) that their molt has begun yet.

      • Laura Culley

        Sadly, we never get to know for sure unless we see how it got there in the first place! Here, feathers are flying. 🙂

  • Laura Culley

    Oh so beautiful! I love the background colors, the perch (and of course, the Swainson’s). What raw beauty and power in that takeoff!
    Thank you for decorating my mind!

  • Zaphir Shamma

    One can never encounter too many Swainson’s Hawks…thank you for sharing. Glad that sucker hole didn’t get the best of you on shot #1. Your last shot is stunning!!

    • Zaphir, the clouds hung over the entire area all morning with the exception of about 1 square mile that was sunny most of the time. Clouds are hard to figure…

  • Stephen Clayson


    Thanks for a great post and great shots as usual. I, unfortunately, chose Antelope Island yesterday. Words cannot express the viciousness of those darn little flying bugs!! No-see-ums? Vicious, hungry, plentiful, aggressive, obnoxious… and other words not for public posting. You are a smart man to go further north yesterday.



    • Stephen, I hate this time of year on the island because of those damned gnats. The only thing good about those little buggers is that they keep the traffic down. I like to have the whole place to myself! 🙂

      • Stephen Clayson


        I noticed that but it was a high price to pay… but I paid it.

        Thanks for your posts,


    • April Olson

      One of the park rangers told me about a product called Green Goo bug repellent you can buy on line. I bought some and it works better than anything else. I still had a few bites where they crawled down my shirt collar but nothing like usual.

  • Marty K

    Wonderful group of shots. I can just feel the warmth of the light in the first one — love it! I totally want to help the second bird out with a handkerchief and a bit of spit — just like our moms used to. I can see the look of embarrassed horror on his little face now! 😉

    Thank you for duking it out with WordPress this morning. I’m sure that Patty’s and my iPads would have had a field day with some of the words flying around your computer room.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Beautiful bird, crisp detail, dramatic backgrounds, weathered wood…I’m happy! Particularly like the last two launch images….(.wonder why you’re seeing so many of these hawjpks)…

    • Patty, I think it’s at least partly because many of them are still migrating through on their way north. I expect Swainson’s numbers to go down significantly in that area soon but some of them will stay around for nesting season.

    • Patty Chadwick

      Damned evil i Pad sabotaged me again!!! Don’t understand why it hates me so much!!!

      • Marty K

        My iPad also seems to be high this morning. Not only has it been changing the words I type into nonsense phrases, it’s been adding all sorts of marks to the vowels. Whatever drugs it’s on, I wish it would share — they seem like pretty good ones. 😉

  • Barby Anderson

    Ron I forgot to ask, which hawk has the quick short ee-ee-ee sound and it sounds just like you are at a zoo listening to monkeys. I just looked it up online and found no hawk call that sounds like this hawk that lives near me. It is not a Cooper’s call at all. Did not sound like a Red-Tailed hawk or Swainsons. I am perplexed. Last year the same ee-ee-ee call was here too. It is a big hawk, I see the hawk doing it but not sure which one it is from a distance. Thanks!

  • Barby Anderson

    Oops I meant to say in the last post, great hunter they are, not great humor, better spell check I guess!

  • Barby Anderson

    Lovely shots Ron! As I watch the hawks over me daily it seems the Red Tailed Hawks fly higher in the sky and the Swainson’s skim over my head with prey in their talons as if to say what a great humor they are. We have nesting hawks nearby and I look forward it watching them each day, however a rat or snake dangling from their talons so close to my head is a bit concerning. 🙂 The one hawk sounds like a monkey ee-ee-ee and does that all the time, but crows are after it and that is the sound it uses when crows are diving at it. There is a crows nest near also and they are not happy! Lotsa hawks here.

  • Dick Harlow

    Great shots Ron. You were in a bird photographers dream space, I’m very envious! The only raptor that has allowed my truck to slow to a stop has been Snowy Owls during the winter. In my experience here in the East is that they will allow a minimum of 70-100 feet. Speeding or moving right along vehicles no problem, but as soon as one slows to look they decide or associate that behavior as enough of a threat to move either to another distant tree or fence post. So, when I read this post, I’m in awe and envious of the shots you are able to take!! Great Job, Congratulations!!

    • Dick, In my experience Swainson’s have generally been more approachable than any other buteo – not always, but often. I think what may be at least part of the difference out west may be our wide open spaces. In many areas there are few trees for them to perch on and hunt from so they do it from power poles and fence posts and those things are usually close to a road so they get acclimated to traffic. It’s always best in early morning though – once it begins to heat up and the thermals start rising most of them hunt on the wing.

  • Judy Gusick

    Wonderful opportunity to see/photograph many hawks – we rarely see more than a couple at a time here. The first and last pictures really capture the birds in different ways. The color of the dark bird against the dark sky in the first and the angle of the bird in the last are impressive. Feel for the one with “goo” stuck on it’s face. 🙂

    • Judy, Besides all the perched Swainson’s there were often several of them soaring above me too. Throw in a good number of Red-tails and the occasional Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Burrowing Owl and Short-eared Owl and it was my kind of morning!

      • Judy Gusick

        WOW! Decisions, Decisions, Decisions on what to photograph and what to just “watch” 🙂

        • I don’t want to give the wrong impression – many of them were unapproachable or the light angle was wrong or something else didn’t work out so photographing them well usually wasn’t easy. But it sure was fun being in the middle of so many raptors.

  • Ron: The post looks as usual, or at least so close to usual that I notice no difference. Nothing blatant!
    The Swainson’s Hawk in the light (first image) is gorgeous. Bird and light are a photographer’s dream, which means up early and good luck. Thank you!

    • Richard, As of a few minutes ago my WordPress issues have apparently been resolved and I’m very grateful for that. Thanks for that feedback.

  • Dominique Gusset

    Wow! spectacular. And I too love your blog posts (and birds on posts lol) with my morning coffee too!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Beautiful Photos Once Again! I especially love that first one with the dark gray-blue sky. Thanks for getting up so early to share your work. I love looking at hawks while having morning coffee.

    • And I love looking at them while I’m composing my posts and enjoying my own coffee, Joanne. With my WordPress problems this morning I suspect these photos helped to keep my blood pressure down a little… 🙂