Observing the Migration of North American Birds of Prey

There are many sites all over the country that are great places to observe the migration of North American birds of prey.

September is one of the best months to visit a local hawk watch site and see which North American birds of prey are on the move. Unlike species such as warblers and hummingbirds that migrate at night, birds of prey migrate during the day and, given the right conditions, congregate in huge groups! Hawk watching is becoming very popular with birders, and there are some amazing locations around the country that give you a good chance to see thousands of these birds. I spent one day last week at the Detroit River Hawk Watch and enjoyed seeing thousands of raptors pass overhead on their way south!

One of the many Sharp-shinned Hawks that I observed migrating at the Detroit River Hawk Watch.Rob Ripma
One of the many Sharp-shinned Hawks that I observed migrating at the Detroit River Hawk Watch.

Here are my top 5 places in the US to go for hawk watching, including the Detroit River Hawk Watch that I visited.

1. Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania – Hawk Mountain was the first refuge for birds of prey in the world. It was protected in 1934 in order to stop the hunting of birds of prey for sport and opened to the public the following year so that people could observe these amazing birds. This site is now one of the most popular hawk watch location in the eastern US. You can learn more about Hawk Mountain on their website.

2. Hawk Ridge, Minnesota – Hawk Ridge sits right on Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. As the birds of prey come around the lake, they fly right past Hawk Ridge, making this an ideal location for a hawk watch. Like many of the hawk watches in the eastern US, this site gets an incredible number of Broad-winged Hawks! Learn more on the Hawk Ridge website.

3. Florida Keys, Florida – This hawk watch is a little different than the others in this list. Most birds of prey avoid going over large bodies of water, but a few species such as Peregrine Falcon and Osprey don’t seem to mind. In 2012, this location set the world record for the total number of Peregrine Falcons (3,836) during a single migration season. Learn more on the hawk watch’s official blog.

4. Detroit River, Michigan – The Detroit River Hawk Watch is located on the west end of Lake Erie and thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass over this spot. Be sure to visit during the middle of September to have the best chance to see a huge movement of birds of prey. Learn more on the Detroit River Hawk Watch website.

5. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – There are two hawk watch locations within the park, and they are both awesome. The most common species are Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Swainson’s Hawks, American Kestrel, Osprey, and Northern Harrier.  In addition to the many migrant birds of prey, you can also see the resident California Condors flying past the site. You can learn about Yaki Point and Lipan Point on the Hawkcount.org website.

Have you ever had the chance to visit a hawk watch? Tell us about your experience in the comment section! If not, you can find a hawk watch near you by visiting Hawkcount.org.

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Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.