News & Features

Swainson’s Hawk – Millinocket, Penobscot County – Sep/Oct 2016

On 29 September 2016, Anita Mueller found a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk at the Millinocket Municipal Airport. This stunning vagrant has been frequenting the area around the western side of the airport and is often seen hunting grasshoppers from the ground. 

Swainson’s Hawks have established a pattern of vagrancy in Maine and New England as migrants passing through, rarely in the spring and more occasional in the fall. Comparing historical Maine records, about a third are from the spring (concentrated in the second half of May) with the rest from the fall (peaking in the second half of September). This record is particularly noteworthy because it is one of the few times a Swainson’s Hawk has lingered at a single spot. The majority of Maine records are of birds actively migrating, seen briefly as they flew past a mountain or hawk watch site.

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A hotspot has been established at this location. Local birders mentioned it as one of their only local places with flat open space, making it ideal for species like Horned Lark, American Pipit, or apparently Swainson’s Hawk. Apart from the open ‘plains-like’ habitat of the runway, there is also a brushy edge running along a stream between the airport and cemetery that birders have noticed a variety of sparrows (Chipping, White-throated, White-crowned, Savannah, Song, Lincoln’s, and Swamp) and a decent diversity of warblers (Tennessee, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Green) in the few days since the Swainson’s Hawks arrival. You can view details for the hotspot at: ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L4958878.

Updates on this bird are available on the Maine Birds Listserv or eBird’s Maine Rare Bird Alert.