Last month near Monida, Montana I photographed a family of Swainson’s Hawks consisting of two adults and two juveniles and in previous posts I’ve mentioned in passing that one of the juveniles was injured. I’ve never posted images of that bird but each time I’ve mentioned the injury there has been considerable interest from my readers so this morning, using photos and narrative, I’ll let you know what I know about that young hawk.
1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
The injury was to the right leg. The bird could fly as well as its healthy sibling but its right leg was always hanging down in flight while the other leg was tucked into a normal flight position. I could never see a physical abnormality in the right leg so I suspect the injury to be higher up where the leg is feathered. Usually that leg would hang almost straight down in flight but occasionally…
1/1250, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
it would drag behind at an angle. I also noticed that the foot was usually held in an open position.
1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
Never once did I see the bird put any weight on its right leg. It would stand on one leg on the ground (or on power pole cross beams) for only a short time before laying down. Here it attempted to land on a fence post but it fluttered its wings for several seconds with its injured leg hanging down and then apparently decided that there wasn’t enough room on top of the post to lie down so it flew to the ground nearby.
1/500, f/16, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in
While moving around on the ground it hopped to protect the injured leg but at rest it nearly always laid down (as you see here) while its healthy sibling never did (that I saw). When one of the parents brought in food (voles) the two young birds competed for it and I saw the injured bird get the vole several times.
On one morning when I approached (in my pickup) these birds as they were both on the ground the injured sibling seemed to be struggling a bit more than usual so I grabbed a towel with the intention of capturing it and taking it to the rehab center in Bozeman where the Barn Owl trapped in barbed wire ended up. But as soon as I opened my pickup door the hawk flew off. It could fly very well.
I suppose it’s possible that the injury is one of soft tissue that could potentially heal on its own. I hope so.
Swainson’s Hawks are now in the midst of their epic migration to South America for the winter. I hope this bird is amongst them.