Photographing Swainson’s Hawks in Northern Utah

/, Box Elder County, Swainson's Hawks, Utah/Photographing Swainson’s Hawks in Northern Utah

Male light morph Swainson's Hawk in morning lightMale light morph Swainson’s Hawk in morning light – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Yesterday morning in northern Utah I saw about a dozen Swainson’s Hawks in about 2.25 miles, some were perched, some were in flight and all of them were wonderful to photograph. I found it difficult to keep up with how many there were so I just stopped counting.  It is a pretty straight stretch of road so I could easily spot them plus it felt a “Swainson’s Hawk Gallery” with the hawks just waiting in line to be photographed.

It was chilly yesterday morning and some of the hawks seemed to be warming up in the sun from the cold night. This male was pretty sticky.

Morning light on a light morph Swainson's HawkMorning light on a light morph Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This Swainson’s was beautiful in the morning light with sagebrush and grasses in the background along with the distant mountains.

Adult Swainson's Hawk close up in side lightAdult Swainson’s Hawk close up in side light – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 250, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

By driving slow past the Swainson’s Hawks there were times I could take close up photos of them with my long lens without the hawks showing any signs of being alarmed. When other vehicles went past they barely even flinched. I wonder of the other drivers even saw these magnificent birds or of they were in such a hurry to get where they were going they just ignored the hawks.

Dark morph Swainson's Hawk in early morning lightDark morph Swainson’s Hawk in early morning light – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1640, ISO 250, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Most of the Swainson’s Hawks seemed like all they wanted to do was absorb the warmth of the rising sun before getting started on their day. I’m kind of like that but I substitute coffee for the sun to get my day off to the right start.

Close up of dark morph Swainson's Hawk in golden lightClose up of dark morph Swainson’s Hawk in golden light – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This dark morph Swainson’s Hawk looked rufous in the golden light when passing it, this is the same bird as the photo directly above this one but the angle of light had changed while moving down the road. I’m seeing quite a few dark morph Swainson’s this year in northern Utah and that delights me.

Sub-adult Swainson's Hawk perched on an old fence postSub-adult Swainson’s Hawk perched on an old fence post – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I believe this is a sub-adult intermediate morph Swainson’s Hawk and it was very cooperative. I took way too many images of it from several different spots from the shoulder of the road.

Male Swainson's Hawk casting a pelletMale Swainson’s Hawk casting a pellet – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

And I couldn’t resist sharing a photo of this male Swainson’s casting a pellet of fur and bones. I have a great series of the hawk expelling this pellet and a second one that can be seen in the hawk’s beak that followed it.

It is terrific to have the Swainson’s Hawks back in Utah, to see them perched on fence posts, trees and rocks, to see them soaring in the sky and to be able to photograph them once again. I had a great time with them yesterday.

Life is so good.



  1. Utahbooklover April 24, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Many comments about how wonderful this series is, and I agree! Thanks for these images and the commentary Mia.

    • Utahbooklover April 24, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      Looking at them again I just have to comment in that first image the hawk looks so content – amazing capture!

  2. Laura A cox April 24, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    love the post you have, the hawk …is awe some looking…thanks again for the emails I ‘ve enjoyed them so much

  3. Heather April 24, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Wonderful pictures as always. My favourite is the one where it is coughing up the pellet. I’ve seen this before but you really need to be in the right place at the right time to get a shot like this. Birds doing what birds do.
    Thanks for sharing

  4. Kim April 24, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Love, love, love!

  5. Naomi Schiff April 23, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Maybe the other drivers were counting the few posts with NO hawks? These are remarkable.

  6. Elephants Child April 23, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    What a wonderful, wonderful start to your day. And to mine.

  7. Pepe Forte April 23, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    To echo the wow factor expressed by everyone else on this page…those are incredible pics! I never cease to be amazed at the detail you capture; especially in the eyes of your subjects. Your work is truly extraordinary. Thanks Mia.

  8. Jerry Jourdan April 23, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Stunning series, Mia. Congratulations!

  9. Patty Chadwick April 23, 2017 at 11:11 am

    What a great series and nice surprise!!! Like them all, but the first is perfection…love the single foot perching…also the wonderful close-up portrait…

  10. Deborah Flowers April 23, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Gorgeous birds! Wonderful photographs Mia! Thanks for sharing.

  11. April Olson April 23, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Beautiful photos of wonderful birds. Last year we stopped counting at 24 in the same are, it was lovely to see so many and most were juveniles. I am optimistic they will have another successful year. It is amazing at the traffic including semi’s that pass on that road the the birds seem unfazed, and I hope unharmed.

  12. John Sherrill April 23, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Wonderful photos! Wonderful Swainsons! You don’t need a calander to tell you what season it is.

  13. Liz Cormack April 23, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Fantastic series of shots. The light morphs are my favourites.

  14. Jen Hajj April 23, 2017 at 7:08 am

    I love the swainie-faces. And the pellet pic is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bob mcpherson April 23, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Beautiful images Mia

  15. Roger Burnard April 23, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Another great series Mia… I am soooo envious of all the
    hawks, and owl you find to photograph. Keep up the good
    work, and that will keep me smiling. ;-)))

  16. suzanne Mcdougal April 23, 2017 at 6:29 am

    Those are all fabulous, but the portrait close-up shot is so lovely. Best supermodel ever.

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