South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Swainson's Hawk

Buteo swainsoni

Length: 19 - 22 inches Wingspan: 46 - 58 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: White wing linings contrasting with dark flight feathers.  Otherwise quite variable, depending upon color phase

Swainson's Hawk - Buteo swainsoniA very long-distance migrant, Swainson's Hawks winter as far south as the southern tip of South America.  They often congregate in flocks numbering in the thousands as they move southward in the Fall.  They are more common in the western part of the state, due to their preference for prairie land with scattered trees.  They aren't as common in areas that are predominantly farmland.  Swainson's Hawks have three different color morphs: light, rufous, and dark.   An intermediate (rufous) morph is shown in the photo on the right.  Additional photos, including those of different color morphs, can be found at the bottom of the page.

Habitat: Plains, dry grassland, farmland, ranch country

Diet: Despite it's large size, most often feeds on large insects.  Also small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Behavior: Despite its relatively large size, Swainson's Hawks are very good at catching insects in mid-air.  They also will walk along the ground to forage for insects.  Other hunting strategies include perching and watching for prey, or slowly soaring over open lands.

Nesting: May through July

Song: Swainson's Hawk song

Migration: Summers throughout much of the central and western United States and Canada.  Primarily winters in southern South America.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Swainson's Hawk sightings

Similar Species: Depending on morph and age, can appear similar to Red-Tailed Hawk.

Conservation Status: Has generally been declining.  Huge numbers of dead Swainson's Hawks have been found in locations in South America.  Heavy pesticide use in their wintering grounds kill millions of insects, which concentrations of Swainson's feed on, and thus become poisoned.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Swainson's Hawk

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Swainson's Hawk

3) - Swainson's Hawk

Photo Information: April 17th, 2006 - Minnehaha County - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Swainson's Hawk photos.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Swainson's hawk - range map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Common summer resident in the northern and western part of the state, uncommon elsewhere.