Starting in late August, nearly the entire population of Swainson's Hawks migrates south to Argentina and Brazil in huge “kettles” or flocks. Hundreds of thousands can pass by a single site in Mexico in a single fall day. The species' migration is a round trip of more than 12,000 miles—the longest of any North American raptor.
In the 1990s, Swainson's Hawk experienced an alarming decline in population in the western United States. This decline was traced to heavy mortality on their wintering grounds. An estimated 35,000 birds had died in Argentina in one season alone, carpeting the ground with dead birds in some places.
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This disastrous die-off turned out to be due to the toxic pesticide monocrotophos, which was used to control insects in sunflower fields. The hawks were eating poisoned grasshoppers and dying in huge numbers. Although this pesticide was removed from use in the U.S. in 1991, it was still widely used in Latin America.
In 1996, our Pesticides Programs undertook an international campaign to remove monocrotophos from the species' wintering habitat. Part of that effort was educating Argentine farmers about safer pest control techniques.
Ultimately, we successfully urged Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis), maker of the pesticide, to halt distribution of monocrotophos to Argentina. Further, the Argentine government was convinced to stop all uses—a major international conservation victory.
Since then, Swainson's Hawk numbers have stabilized.
We continue to advocate for Bird-Safe wind energy, calling on the federal government to establish new regulations to govern the impacts of wind energy projects on Swainson's Hawk and other migratory birds. Our report on the 10 worst-sited wind energy facilities for birds highlights the importance of siting turbines outside of migratory corridors.
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