Bird of the week: Swainson's hawks

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Swainson’s hawks, also known as grasshopper hawks and locust hawks, are type of medium-sized raptors. They nest in western North America during the summer months, then migrate to Argentina and Chile in the winter. Historically these hawks lived in the expansive prairies and grasslands of Canada and the United States, but in the past century much of their natural habitat has been replaced by crops. The species has adapted to the change, and can often be seen on telephone poles near agricultural fields. The birds are watching for their prey. During the breeding season they hunt often small animals, like mice, voles, rabbits and even smaller birds. They are even known to follow farm machinery as it plows up the dirt and brings up the burrowing rodents. For the rest of the year, they forage for small insects, usually on foot. Swainson’s Hawks tend to live in riparian areas, meaning near bodies of water. They need the tall trees that grow near water sources. The birds tend to settle where they can scan their surroundings. Like many native birds, the Swainson’s hawk population was devastated by the pesticide DDT. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that the historic number of mating pairs at 17,136. When the population was counted in 1980, there were only 375 individual birds. As conservation measures were put into place, the number of Swainson’s hawks began to climb. In the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve, several sections have been dedicated to habitat mitigation. The Swainson’s hawk is one of several species that this mitigation is dedicated to preserving. ]]>

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