Trading Places

I still see them every day. The rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) have not begun their spring migration. And each day I also watch for Swainson’s hawks (Buteo swainsoni). They are winging their way toward Big Valley where we live, but have not yet arrived. These two hawks seem to trade places twice a year.

Swainson’s hawks migrate the furthest of any American raptor, summering and breeding in the Western United States and wintering in Argentina. The trip of approximately 6,250 miles takes two months and averages 125 miles a day! And these hawks make the journey twice a year! Talk about travelling!

Rough-legged hawks winter in the northern part of the 48 states then spend summers and breed in the high Arctic tundra and taiga. They do not  migrate as far as the Swainson’s hawk, yet it is still an impressive journey. 

I took the rough-legged hawk picture several days ago in Ash Creek Wildlife Area while checking to see if the red-tailed hawks had returned to a nest I monitor each year. (Not yet.) The dark carpal patches on the underwing, a subterminal band on the tail and a dark trailing edge to the underwings are field marking for the rough-legged hawk. The leg feathers, which also identify a rough-legged hawk, are also visible. I am not happy with the Swainson’s hawk picture because of the telephone wire across its wing. Yet Leonard feels it illustrates the Swainson’s field marks well. The dark breast, light underparts, dark subterminal band and lighter bands on the tail as well as the dark gray trailing edge to the two-toned underwing are characteristic of a Swainson’s hawk. Looking closely at the talons, it appears that this hawk recently had a meal. The Swainson’s hawk picture was taken last fall about two miles from our house on County Road 87 (Modoc County CA).

We are so fortunate to have these two hawks share portions of their life cycles with us.

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