Swainson’s Hawk


Swainson’s Hawk
Buteo swainsoni

Swainson’s Hawks are great voyagers. During migrations, they might travel 11,000 miles between North and South America. They find grasshoppers and dragonflies when they are in South America during our winter; returning here, they hunt for voles and insects.

Swainson’s Hawks are buteos, meaning they are large hawks with fairly broad wings and short tails. However, Swainson’s Hawks are less hefty than many other buteos. They are slimmer and longer-winged, with their wings typically held in a shallow V when soaring.

Swainson’s Hawks are social raptors, nearly always being found in groups outside the breeding season. You may see them soaring in a kettle of migrating birds; strung out on the ground, fence posts, and utility poles when foraging on grasshoppers; or chasing swarms of dragonflies on winter quarters in Argentina.

Swainson’s Hawks are a threatened species in California; we are rapidly losing their preferred habitat—open grasslands and agricultural areas.

Our male Swainson’s hawk, Odin, was found along a roadside in Modoc County in 1999, possibly hit by a car. His left eye was severely injured and had to be removed during treatment at our wildlife hospital. With only one eye, he cannot effectively hunt and would not survive in the wild. He joined our ambassador team in 2000.

Although missing an eye, one of Odin’s favorite activities is getting crickets that get tossed to him. He’s currently also learning how to fly to and from the glove for exercise.

Swainson’s Hawk (Dark Morph)

Though most Swainson’s Hawks are lighter in color, Lindsay acquired Valkyrie in 2017. She is darker in color than most  Swainson’s, a trait which is known as ‘Dark Morph.’

Before she was an ambassador, she was a patient in the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital where first arrived as a fledgling in July with injuries in both eyes after falling out of its nest. While her left eye healed well, her right eye developed a traumatic cataract. Without sight in her right eye, she was be unable to effectively hunt and survive in the wild.

Valkyrie is a very unique and curious ambassador. She enjoys spending time with her keepers and engaging in training sessions. Due to the issues with her eyes, her keepers have trained her to get a voluntary eye exam with an ophthalmoscope. This will allow other keepers to help Valkyrie receive medical checks throughout her life. The best part of this training for Valkyrie is she gets lots of treats during her exams!