About those Swainson’s Hawks


So many times I have posted about hawks, but I realized that I had never mentioned the Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). It is slightly smaller than the red-tailed and I guess that is why I sometimes confuse the two, especially if it is a younger hawk and I am unable to see the color of the tail-feathers.  The folowing images were captured out here in west Texas.  In flight, their wings are rather long,  tapered, and more pointed than the red-tailed.  They can also be identified by their white throat and large chocolate bib.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Photo EXIF data:

Swainson’s Hawk on utility pole crossbar :

  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f10 minus 1/3 EV – ISO 250
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

Both images Swainson’s Hawk in tree:

  • Canon EOS 20D with Canon 100-400mm zooms lens
  • 1/1600 sec. @ f10 – ISO 400
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

I didn’t have any photos of a Swainson’s in flight.  That surprised me, as I have so many pictures of various flying hawks.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, and have a great week.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

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22 thoughts on “About those Swainson’s Hawks

  1. I definitely know the Red-tails much better than the Swainies, as they are by far the more common in my area. Also the Swainson’s have such a large variation in color morphs that they can be harder to tell who is who. I much appreciate you haring these images with us, as it helps with my own identification of Swainsons, with whom I am not very familiar.

    Also, re: your conversation with Katie about aperture and shutter speed- if I have no choice but to shoot at a speed such as f/4, I will do it, but I always try to shoot at at least f/5.6, as lenses are usually just a touch soft at their most wide open. Stopping down one to two stops are usually more within a lenses “happy range” (the middle stops usually being the happiest for sharpness combined with a decent depth of field). F/8- f/10 are my go-to’s. but a stop or two either side still make me happy.

    • Hi Galen, I appreciate your fine comment. I agree with you 100%. I rarely shoot at f4. I would say that most of the time I am at from 5.6 to 7.1. That is for shooting birds, etc.

      I, too, have trouble IDing the Swainsons. I really have to take close looks at my guides. I like the new Stokes guide to Bird of North America, then I like Sibleys for the field marks.

  2. Another response to Katie. I used to change my ISO frequently with my older cameras, but this Canon 7D is so dependable in that area, I can feel confident using it when needing to move fast with the birds. Just one more thing that I don’t have to worry about, when time is limited. 🙂

  3. Love these hawk photos, Bob. Do you ever take photos of turkey vultures, etc.? I seriously love those birds. So pretty in flight and when they roost, they look so strangely interesting. I rarely see those bird up here in Santa Fe, but when I do, i do a little happy dance. 🙂

    Technical question, what determines the aperture you use? I noticed before on smaller birds it was often f/6.3 and here it’s f/10.

    These photos are fantastic. sharp as can be (f/10) and just beautiful.

    • Hi Katie,

      Strange that you should ask about Turkey Vultures. I do have some images of them. I think I did a post a few months back about them. I will check on that and get back to you. Maybe you can do another “happy dance”.

      On your technical question, I plead ignorance. I had to go back and re-check my EXIF data. Why I happened to pick f10 for those shot, I really can’t remember. But, I probably wanted to make sure I hade plenty of DOF (depth of field). I must say, most of the time I am shooting anywhere from f4 to f7.1. That’s in aperture priority. If I shoot shutter priority, then it can be anything.

      But, having said all of that, (whew), I tend to make snap decisions on the spot for different situations. Or, I often forget to check my settings. Which, of course, may be the answer to your origination question. 🙂

      One more thing, about the sharpness, I only use one center focus point. And I put that point squarely on the bird. That way, the camera lens doesn’t go wild trying to get in focus, as if would if I was using all nine of the focus points.

      Many thanks for your kind compliments, Katie. 🙂

      • Thanks for response, Bob. Do share some more photos of those turkey vultures, pretty please.:) Loved your last post (https://bobzeller.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/the-ever-popular-turkey-vulture/).

        Thanks for your explanation on your use of aperture. I use aperture priority a lot, unless something is moving really fast, and then I do shutter priority. And hope my lens is sharp enough to handle that. 🙂 But I change on the situation and the lens and play with the ISO speed too.

        I was thinking maybe you used a higher f stop because the bird was bigger, so more DOF was needed to get him all sharp like he is? That was my initial thought. I haven’t gone after birds in a very long time, and never as a specialty,although I used to do some spotting for birds though, and just loved it.

        More than welcome on the compliments. I love your photos! 🙂

        • One more thing about aperture priority. The more wide-open, say f4, that you shoot, the faster shutter speed you will get. That is one reason that I use those larger apertures for the birds, especially the smaller ones. They are more flightier and need faster speeds to catch the action.

          If I used shutter priority, for example going with say 1/000 sec there is no guarantee what f-stop the camera will choose.

          But another thing that helps me, is that my camera handles Auto-ISO very well and so I come up with great results most of the time, unless the camera senses some abnormal situation, a sudden change of light, etc.

        • This goes below your last message, Bob, but I don’t see the “reply” on it, so I’m replying here.

          Totally understand the larger aperture means faster shutter speeds. I use that when taking photos of say, dogs playing; where stopping action is a priority over getting really sharp photos. I’ve not used auto-ISO very often, but I probably should. 🙂 I’ve just gotten really good at changing it. 🙂

          Thanks for your informative reply, Bob!

  4. Photography, especially birds photography is so exciting for me, but I haven’t any experience except seagulls and crows… sometimes I can find some little birds too. But hawk! I should go out of the city, to the nature… Your birds photographs are so beautiful, I noticed that you use Canon too, as me. Thank you dear Bob, have a nice day, with my love, nia

  5. Beautiful photos, Bob! They do have a regal look. We see red-tailed hawks (rarely) on our property. I love hearing their haunting ‘cry’ and love to see them, but they scare the other birds!

    • Thank you so much, Karen. I have sat in bird blinds watching the smaller ones, and suddenly there’s a SWOOSH!!. The small birds leave as one in an instant. The reason?? A hawk in the area.

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