Two different Swainson’s Hawks

Adult Swainson's HawkAdult Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Red-tailed Hawks have the most variable plumages of North American hawks but Swainson’s Hawks are also pretty variable, there are light morphs, intermediate morphs and dark morphs.

Look at those longs legs!

Sub-adult Swainson's HawkLight morph Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/320, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Then there are the varying juvenile and sub-adult plumages too. The bird shown above is a light morph 1st year bird, or a sub-adult. I think the nearly white head is interesting.

Both of these birds were photographed last week in Montana.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. it s not easy to get a easy identification when there variation in feathers with somes species,
    it s a good post mia, with nice pictures to explain it, thanks a lot
    take care ☺

  2. I’ve never seen a Swainson’s in the wild (just in a rehab setting). I discovered the plumage variations when putting together a presentation on raptors, and coming upon all sorts of distinctions between birds in photographs. I didn’t realize Swainson’s were as diverse as Red tails with respect to coloration. Thanks for pointing this out.

    • Ingrid, I hope that you will see a Swainson’s in the wild soon, they are very impressive hawks. We only have them in the warmer months and I miss them when they are gone. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Beautiful! I love to see one of these some day.

  4. I may have lied. Looking at your top photo, I may have a photo of one of these, now I gotta go look – I thought it was a red tail. I’m so very bad at my hawk ids and I have one coming up that I took Sunday (on a natural perch – YAY) that I’m still not sure about. Hope when you see it you can help! Off to find that possible Swainson’s

  5. Wonderful photographs of a beautiful species, Mia!
    I’m continually amazed at the wide range of appearance raptors can display. I guess that’s what makes birding interesting!

  6. Great Mia, I learned how to use the word morph with you. It’s such a beautifully descriptive word.

  7. Beautiful shots…nice composition in both, especially in the first frame… Interesting coloration in the juvenile…not sure I’d recognize the bird on my own.

  8. It’s bad light, never mind, it is a beautiful bird, thanks Mia.

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