eWestern BirdsThe Quarterly Journal of Western Field Ornithologists
Vol. 54, No. 1
Western Field Ornithologists
Swainson’s Hawk Nesting Population in the Antelope Valley of the Western Mojave Desert, California
Peter H. Bloom, Rainey G. Barton, and Michael J. Kuehn
ABSTRACT: The Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) has a long history of breeding in California, but a severe decline in the statewide breeding population was identified in 1979, when in all of southern California only two pairs were found, one in the Antelope Valley of the western Mojave Desert. That area was little studied until we began banding Swainson’s Hawks there in 1997. Over 20 breeding seasons between 1979 and 2022, we documented in the Antelope Valley 124 attempts to nest, in which the mean clutch and brood sizes were 2.49 and 2.37, respectively. From 2004 through 2006, we observed two to four breeding pairs annually; from 2009 through 2022, three to 14 breeding pairs. The rate of success of the 91 nests revisited to determine if any young fledged was 64%. Nest trees consisted of 81.5% non-native species, 13.7% native species, including Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), and 4.8% unidentified deciduous trees. Between 1997 and 2022, in 50 nests, we recorded 170 vertebrate prey items, of which 90 were gophers (Thomomys bottae). Though the Antelope Valley population has grown since 1980, its nesting and foraging habitat now face multiple threats. To conserve occupied nesting territories, we recommend creation of nesting and foraging habitat reserves that include both native desert and cultivated alfalfa close to existing conserved land.