Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Swainson's Hawk - Buteo swainsoni
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General Comments Though the Swainson's Hawk is a Western species, like the Broad-winged Hawk almost the entire breeding population leaves Canada and the United States in winter. As with the rare Northern Goshawk, reports of Swainson's in the state must be made with care, though there are a handful of photographic records. Because it breeds and winters in extensive grasslands and prairies, it is more likely to be looked for in wide open fields in North Carolina, particularly near the coast. Indeed there are quite a few records for Alligator River NWR, as might be expected. However, several reports are simply of birds seen in flight over woods or mixed habitats. Records have been increasing since about 2005, for whatever reason, though there is apparently not a global population increase in the species.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Formerly casual transient to the coast and Tidewater areas, but since about 2005, now very rare, with at least 15 records for the province; also casual to very in winter (mainly at one site). A handful of recent records for Alligator River NWR, including one that spent the entire winter of 2006-2007. There are a few other winter records, and two spring records -- one immature at this refuge 23-28 Mar 2003, and one seen in winter 2015-16 that remained through 17 Mar 2016. No far inland records for the province. Most records are in Oct and Nov, but one photographed at Pea Island NWR (Dare) on 16 Sep 2023 was notably early. Peak counts: 3, North River Farms (Carteret), 24 Oct 2006; two on several occasions there until 19 Nov 2006; 2, Alligator River NWR, 30 Dec 2008. There are also a few reports from the province that have not been accepted by the NC BRC.
Piedmont Casual visitor. Three reports, two accepted -- of birds seen overhead: one adult, Lake Benson (Wake), 21 Mar 1982*; and one immature, Duke Forest, 4 Dec 1995*. The third report was of one immature in light-phase west of Chapel Hill, 18 Nov 2012, not reviewed by the NC BRC.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Because a number of records have recently come from Alligator River NWR, this is the only place in the state to even think about finding one. Carefully check for raptors along Milltail Road and Long Curve Road in fall, and maybe into Dec. This is a good place, and way, to look for Rough-legged Hawk, as well.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-03-21], LeGrand[2023-03-19]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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