Swainson's hawk. Image by Mary Kay Rubey.

Swainson’s hawk

General Information: A classic species of the Great Plains and the West, Swainson’s Hawks soar on narrow wings and perch on fence posts and irrigation spouts. These elegant gray, white, and brown hawks prey primarily on rodents and insects.

CategoryFocal species
Surface Water Needs: None
Federal Listing Status: None
State Listing Status: Threatened

Potential Conservation Actions:  

  • Develop grazing plans
  • Plant natives

Fun Fact

Swainson’s hawks have one of the longest migrations of any American raptor – forming flocks of hundreds or thousands to travel to Argentina beginning in the fall of each year.


Generally, Swainson’s hawk habitat consists of large, open, undeveloped landscapes. These include grasslands, agricultural lands (especially alfalfa), low-density shrublands, and desert habitats that have sparsely distributed trees for nesting.



Low-density shrublands

Agricultural lands

Disturbance and Stressors

The largest threat to Swainson’s hawks is the loss of foraging, breeding, and nesting habitats. Other threats include energy development, infrastructure and other human development, disease, pesticides, and electrocution.

Habitat fragmentation

Human development

Pesticide applications

Solar energy development

Swainson's hawk. Image by Mark Williams via Audubon.
Swainson's hawk. Image via nationalzoo.si.edu

Sources: allaboutbirds.org, Bechard et al. 2020, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Estep 1989
Photo credits: Mary Kay Rubey, Mark Williams (via Audubon), nationalzoo.si.edu