The Return of the Swainson’s Hawks

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It’s time for the changing of the guard. Rough-legged Hawks are on their way to the northern edge of the continent to breed and raise their young in the 24-hour summer sunshine. At the same time, Swainson’s Hawks are on their way back from Argentina in search of an endless summer.

Swainson’s Hawks were the first hawks I learned to identify as a fledgling birder. The dark-dark-light pattern of perched birds is easy to remember—dark head and chest, white belly. Plus, the russet cowl is distinctive. Smaller than other Colorado Buteos, their tiny feet allow them to perch on wires whereas other Buteos prefer trees and telephone poles. A friend described the white over their beak as their “searchlight” and the mnemonic stuck. And finally, no other American hawk has pale coverts with dark flight feathers. A soaring bird is instantly recognizable.

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