Breakfast at the Swainsons Hawk nest by Robert Sewell
June 19th Last Thursday morning Lyvonne' and I went to the Sutters Landing
stretch of the American River to check on the Swainson Hawks nest. On the
way there we spent time musing at the long angle of mornings first light
skimming across the rivers calm, mirror like surface, which was teaming with
darting insects and occasional leaping fish. The rivers flow was slow and
graceful with currents swirling in different and even opposite directions,
creating an ever changing "river dance," accompanied by bird songs and
rustled leaves. This was all this was free of charge, by the way.
The river level is running high for this time of year, so we
walked along the banks where beavers have been actively dining on fallen
tree branches. The Swainsons nest is high up in a Cottonwood tree, almost
directly across for the "tree swing," but it's well concealed, so a spotting
scope is most helpful in actually sighting the chicks in the nest. When we
arrived, mom was perched on a nearby snag tree. She called out often, but
dad was not in sight. During our wait a little Mallard Duck kept us
entertained, as it spastically swam back and forth searching for food.
Finally ma Swainson flew across the river to the field behind us
where the methane is being drained and processed. By the way, this hill is
the tallest geographical point in the city, and because it is fenced off
from domesticated animals and people, it provides a food base for all the
top feeding birds and animals near by. An older map listed this field as;
"Sunset Hill." Back to ma Swainson, in a short time, she returned with
Cottontail Rabbit for breakfast, wow! I read that Swainsons mainly hunt
larger prey when they are rearing chicks, to get the needed protein for
their development, but in their winter range they eat mostly insects.
Consequently in some areas they are called "Grasshopper Hawks." Some
Swainsons rank among the worlds great migratory birds, ranging from the
northern parts of North America, to the southern parts South America.
After feeding the chicks, mom spent much restful time at the
nest; while dad went on patrol duty. He seemed to have appeared out of
nowhere to ward-off a Great Blue Heron who passed too close for comfort.
When a Red-tailed hawk flew high over head, it was chased away within
I read that Swainsons are listed as a federal species of concern,
and are also considered threatened by the state of California, largely
because of habitat lost. We have located two Swainson nest sights along our
stretch of the river, and we suspect past generations have nested around
here much longer than any recorded records show. Let's hope many generations
in the future will have the same opportunity.
Friends of the river, Lyvonne' & Robert
You are invited to view Robert's photo album: Breakfast at the
Swainsons Hawk nest