Where are the best places to watch, count, and photograph fall raptor migration? Find out here.
Northern Harrier. Photo: Scott Dere/Audubon Photography Awards
Have you ever witnessed a “kettle”? No, we aren’t talking about the kitchen appliance. Each fall (and for a period of time in early spring), Broad-winged Hawks and other birds of prey migrate by the thousand in large flocks called “kettles”, soaring on thermals from their breeding grounds to winter habitat thousands of miles away. The fall raptor migration season occurs from late August through November, but the peak is September-October. The best time to look for migrating hawks in astonishing numbers is after a cold front, with a north or northwest wind.
During fall migration, volunteer hawkwatchers count and observe thousands of raptors as they head south for the winter. The data is compiled and recorded to help advance scientific study and research. On a good day with northwest winds, one may see a variety and large number of hawks such as eagles, kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Ospreys, Broad-winged Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons among others.
Those who participate in hawkwatch are encouraged to submit data to the Hawk Migration Association of America. The numbers help inform conservation action to increase the health of raptor populations and can be viewed at www.hawkcount.org.
Get your binoculars ready (or don't, since these large birds can be seen with the naked eye!), and get ready to see some birds of prey.
Because the migration route is influenced by weather patterns, hotspot viewing locations can vary from year to year and you don't always have to go to or near an official or active hawkwatch site to enjoy the show—but here are some good places to start.
Here are some of the best places to visit to experience raptor migration in the fall:
Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch - located in Mt. Kisco, NY. There are hawkwatch staff from Bedford Audubon on site 7 days a week, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.!
Franklin Mountain Hawkwatch - located on the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society Sanctuary overlooking Oneonta, NY.
Hook Mountain State Park - located in Nyack, NY, this hawkwatch site is staffed throughout the fall by Rockland Audubon Society members.
Lenoir Preserve (Mansion) Hawkwatch - located on the border of Yonkers and Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester, this site is on a large field overlooking the Hudson River. Join volunteers from Hudson River Audubon Society: details here.
Mount Peter Hawkwatch - located in Warwick, NY at a high point along the Bellvale Mountain Ridge.
Raptor migration also occurs in the springtime, from the beginning of March until the end of May. Here are some of the best spring sites:
Braddock Bay Park and Frisbee Hill Park - located in Monroe County, NY at a point on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Notable fall migration observations also take place here.
Derby Hill Bird Observatory - located at the southeastern corner of Lake Ontario in Oswego County, NY.
Hamburg Hawkwatch - located at Lakeside Cemetery in Hamburg, NY.
There are more great viewing sites right next door - click to see what Connecticut has to offer this hawkwatch season!