the Swainson Falcon | Lifestyles | theadanews.com
This week’s featured creature, the Swainson’s Falcon, is a bird of the Great Plains and the American West, and the Ada region sits on the eastern border of the bird’s summer range.
However, people are bound to see this bird more often in the spring and fall during migration.
Although the peak fall migration for these birds in Oklahoma is in late September, some will continue to pass through the region over the next week.
The Swainson’s Falcon was named after William John Swainson, a 19th-century English ornithologist, entomologist, artist, conchologist, and malacologist.
The birds are true long-distance migrants, making round trips from the United States and Canada to Argentina every year.
Indeed, these birds participate in one of the great ornithological shows during the migration. They often form massive groups called “kettles” as they migrate in the spring and fall.
Swainson’s hawks are often joined by broad-winged hawks, Mississippi kites, turkey vultures, and black vultures to form huge kettles, which can range from hundreds of birds to tens of thousands.
They take advantage of thermal currents, in which rising heat carries the birds upwards so that they can save much-needed energy and flap their wings less.
These kettles are most common in April and September.
A few years ago, one April, my son and I were driving on a freeway in Texas, near the border with Mexico. In the distance I saw a large number of birds moving north across the horizon.
Thousands of Swainson’s hawks, broad-winged hawks, turkey vultures, and black vultures swirled together in cauldrons. It was quite a spectacle.
The large number of birds was overwhelming and difficult to explain. Photos or even videos could never do it justice.
During the fall migration, the further south they go, the narrower the migration path, which means kettles get much bigger by the time they reach the border with Mexico.
Swainson’s falcon has a light form and a dark form, and both have intermediate colorations. The dark morph looks like the light morph in the pattern, however, where the light morph is white, the dark morph is, well, dark. And because the dark form is much more likely to be seen west of the Rocky Mountains, I will only write about the light form in the description.
Swainson’s hawks are about the size of red-tailed hawks, only a little thinner. They have long wings with pointed wing tips, which are also narrower than the wings of the redtail.
Swainson’s hawks are mostly brown on the back and light colored on the front. They have a dark head and upper chest. However, while females have a brown head that matches their breast color, males typically have a dark grayish head and a red upper breast (see photos).
When in flight and seen from below, they have blackish flight feathers.
The Ada region is located in the very eastern part of this bird’s range. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulfur lists the bird as a common summer resident.
Their range also extends northeast to the western limit of Missouri, north to Canada, west to California, and southeast to Texas and parts of the northern Mexico. There are also a few areas in Alaska and northern Canada where these birds can be found.
Swainson’s hawks have a somewhat different diet than many other species of hawks. During the nesting season, they eat snakes, lizards, and small mammals, such as ground squirrels, ground squirrels, voles, and mice. But when not nesting, these hawks feed on large grasshoppers. Yes, you read that right, grasshoppers. But also dragonflies, especially when they are on the wintering grounds in Argentina.
Open spaces such as meadows, dry meadows, pastures and agricultural fields. Funny, but if you look at the distribution maps of the Swainson’s Hawk and the Broad-winged Hawk, you’ll see that while the Swainson occupies much of the western United States, the broadwing – a bird of the wood – occupies a large part of the eastern half. Their boundaries meet where the eastern woods end and the great plains begin.
They also visit the prairie habitat he converted to cropland and pasture. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they are often found searching for prey in hay and alfalfa fields, pastures, grain crops and row crops, or perched on adjacent fence posts and systems of overhead watering.
I also saw them walking on the ground in these environments, most likely
looking for grasshoppers.
Nests are usually created in trees in open areas about 15 to 30 feet above the ground.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that females lay one to five eggs which will incubate for a period of time, around five weeks. The nesting period is much shorter, around three weeks.
• Depending on where the bird resides in North America, the migration of the Swainson’s Falcon on a round trip to Argentina can be over 12,000 miles – the longest of any North American raptor. .
• According to the American Bird Conservancy, during the 1990s a considerable number of Swainson’s falcons died from a pesticide used in Argentina. Falcons ate poisonous grasshoppers and died in large numbers – 35,000 in a single season. However, thanks to an international conservation effort, use of the problematic pesticide ended and the Swainson falcon population stabilized.
• According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known Swainson’s Falcon in the wild was over 26 years old when it was recaptured in 2012 after being banded in 1986.
• A few weeks ago, I introduced the monarch butterfly, and its migration is now in full swing. Thursday, while waiting in front of a store, I saw more than ten
float within five minutes. It’s fascinating to watch these super generation butterflies float around knowing they have such a long trip to their wintering grounds in southern Mexico and then back to the United States in the spring. What an incredible trip!
(Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid bird watcher, nature enthusiast, and photographer for over 40 years. Contact him at [email protected])