SOAR INTO THE WILD WEST WITH THE SWAINSON'S HAWK
The Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is a large bird of prey notable for its impressive migrations, which can span thousands of miles. In Bisbee, Arizona, located in the Mule Mountains, these hawks are observed primarily during their migration periods. Bisbee's unique geographical location and the varying altitudes of the Mule Mountains provide an ideal environment for these raptors, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
The Swainson's Hawk is a medium to large hawk, with adults typically measuring between 18 to 22 inches in length, with a wingspan ranging from 48 to 54 inches. They have a relatively slim build compared to other raptors. There are two main color morphs: light and dark. The light morph has a white or cream-colored chest and belly, with a brown back, wings, and a distinctive bib-like band of dark feathers across the chest. The dark morph is overall darker brown, with fewer contrasts between the upper and lower body.
Habitat and Diet
In the Mule Mountains around Bisbee, Swainson's Hawks are often found in open areas such as grasslands and desertscapes. They prefer open country for hunting and are less frequently found in densely wooded areas. Their diet is quite varied, consisting mainly of small mammals like rodents, but they also eat insects, birds, and reptiles. During migration, they are known to feed extensively on insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Swainson's Hawk is its migration. They are long-distance migrants, traveling from North America to as far south as Argentina for the winter. The journey is a round trip of up to 12,000 miles. In Bisbee, these hawks are commonly seen during the migration periods, with large flocks, known as "kettles," forming especially in the spring and fall. These kettles can sometimes contain hundreds of birds and are a spectacular sight for birdwatchers.
The Swainson's Hawk is currently listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. However, they face threats from habitat loss and pesticide use in their South American wintering grounds. Conservation efforts in North America have been largely successful, but international cooperation is needed to ensure the species' long-term survival.
Significance in Bisbee
For the residents and visitors of Bisbee, the Swainson's Hawk migration periods offer an extraordinary opportunity for bird watching. The Mule Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for observing these majestic birds of prey. Their presence in the area highlights the importance of conserving the diverse habitats within and around the Mule Mountains to support a variety of wildlife.