I am a traveler. I was born in Wyoming, and will always return, but I spend Wyoming winters far away in a place where it is summer. Sometimes a few individuals join me for the long migration, sometimes thousands of us fly together. When we migrate in large groups some people call us a “kettle of hawks.” We fly south across North America, and then cross Central America, flying across the Isthmus of Panama down to South America: Imagine a thin ribbon of thousands and thousands of hawks flying south. It’s magnificent!, if I may say so myself. After two months and thousands of miles we reach the Pampas in Argentina, where we stay for a few months. We like the Pampas because the grassy landscape reminds us of North America’s open prairies and deserts. When the days get shorter in the southern hemisphere, I become restless and take off on the long migratory trip back to my birthplace. Of all North American hawks, we are the one with the longest migratory journey.
We arrive back in Wyoming from South America in April, and build our huge stick nests in tall trees close to rivers, or in the lone trees that are occasionally found in the middle of the prairie. Very often we return to the same nest year after year. If you are fortunate, you may see our fluffy babies sticking their heads out of the nest a little later in the spring. We feed our chicks the three R’s of hawk diets: rabbits, rodents, and reptiles. We have excellent eyesight, so we can see animals moving on the ground from way up high. To get high in the air, I catch a stream of rising warm air (called a thermal) and let it take me up as I soar in graceful circles. Although you can often see us soaring above the prairie in search of food, sometimes we hop on the ground to catch large insects (not so graceful, I admit), and we even catch dragonflies on the wing (graceful again)! Unfortunately, our appetite for insects can lead to trouble. In Argentina, farmers were using pesticides to control grasshoppers. We gorged on the dying insects and thousands of us died. But Wyoming populations of my species are doing well. If you see a hawk in summer, it is likely to be either a Swainson’s or a red-tailed hawk. You can tell hawks apart from other birds of prey because we have wide bodies and broad wings.