Two different Swainson’s Hawks

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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. These images show two different Swainson’s Hawks, one adult in flight, one sub-adult perched on a post.

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.



  1. eric c11 August 3, 2013 at 12:43 am

    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 ☺

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

      Eric, I hope you have a great weekend! Thanks for your comment on this Swainson’s Hawk post.

  2. Ingrid August 2, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson August 3, 2013 at 5:54 am

      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. Scott Simmons August 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2013 at 6:16 am

      I hope you see them soon Scott. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Sherry in MT August 1, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    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

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Looking forward to seeing that hawk image Sherry! Thanks

  5. Wally August 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    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!

    • Mia McPherson August 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks Wally, I find the varying plumages of raptors fascinating!

  6. M. Firpi August 1, 2013 at 8:11 am

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

  7. patty chadwick August 1, 2013 at 6:15 am

    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.

    • Mia McPherson August 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Patty, the sub-adult birds are tricky to ID, especially since Red-tailed Hawks are found in the same area. Thanks very much for your comment.

  8. Bob Bushell August 1, 2013 at 5:36 am

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

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