Swainson’s hawk averages 19 to 22 inches in length (tail tip to bill tip in preserved specimen). There is a dark band on the breast. The rounded tail is gray shading to white. When ﬂying, the lower sides of the broad wings appear tan at the leading edge in contrast to the other dark feathers. There are two color morphs of this bird: light and dark. The light phase birds do not have the dark, breast band of feathers. The dark phase birds are uniformly dark. The immature birds have brown feathers on the back and have streaks of brown on the chest. This bird of prey (meat eater) has a hooked beak to help tear its food apart for eating.
Swainson’s hawk is a rare migrant throughout Illinois and a local summer resident in the northern one-half of the state. It lives in open grassland habitats. Spring migrants arrive in late March and early April. Nesting does occur in northern Illinois, usually in isolated trees in agricultural or grassland areas. Fall migrants begin to arrive in late September. Swainson’s hawk winters from Florida to South America. When ﬂying, this raptor soars in circles. It eats small mammals and insects. Its call is a whistled “kreeeer.”