Two days ago I spotted an adult Swainson’s Hawk resting on a rocky hillside in the Centennial Valley of Montana. I took a few photos of the hawk with my teleconverter on and then removed it hoping that when the bird lifted off I would be able to take some flight shots of it without clipping the wing tips. The hawk walked up the hill a short distance and before long it did take flight and I was able to take several photos of it (see below) and the hawk landed on the ground at the top of the hill near some fence posts where part of the bird was in the shade. After taking a few more images of the bird we took our leave to head up a canyon to try to locate more birds.
The canyon held a few birds and I took a few images there of a pair a Golden Eagles soaring way too far away. I sat for a few minutes to review images for sharpness at 100% on my camera LCD screen when I noticed what appeared to be “singed” feathers on the Swainson’s Hawk’s underwing coverts in its right wing, see the insert in the photo above.
I say “singed” because the feathers looked kind of blackened and deformed. I don’t know what could have caused that kind of damage to the feathers and I also do not know if there is damage to the underwing coverts of the left wing because I never had a clear view of it. At first I thought the feathers had been burned somehow but that doesn’t make sense because there was no damage to the wingtips and I believe those would have been singed first if the cause had been a fire.
Feather mites and lice could have caused the damage to the hawk’s underwing coverts. One other thought I had was that perhaps this hawk has been taking care of chicks and that there was something on the nest that caused the feather damage but that seems far fetched to me.
I simply don’t know what caused this kind of feather damage and I hope that someone can give me a better idea of what was going on with this Swainson’s Hawk.
I took a few more images of the hawk after leaving the canyon but those images didn’t show any more damage to the feathers of this hawk than the earlier images had.
The Swainson’s Hawk had no trouble flying though and I hope that despite the feather damage I could see that the bird lives a long life and will be fit for its long migration this fall.
Life is good.