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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Hawk Migration Is Starting, How To ID hawks


Broad-winged Hawk, an abundant migrant

Broadwings migrate in large groups (called "kettles") rising up on thermals.


The hawks are coming! The hawks are coming! We're entering prime hawk migration time for birders in the northern and eastern half of the U.S. Look for a high pressure weather front with northerly, mild winds, that's the conditions hawks need to migrate and next week looks like it will have some good weather for migration. Some hawks, such as Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and American Kestrels, often fly singly and move under a variety of conditions, but Broad-winged Hawks, an abundant migrant, go in groups and migrate by using rising thermals. Most of the northeast hawk-watch sites are gearing up to count the numbers of migrants and report the statistics to the Hawk MIgration Association of North America website. On their website, you can join this organization, keep track of the number of migrants, and also find a hawk watching site near you.

Here are some tips for watching hawks:

1. Prime Broad-winged Hawk migration in the North is Sept. 11 to 25, in the South (TX) it is Sept. 25th to Oct. 10.

2. Prime Sharp-shinned Hawk migration in the Northeast is Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, in the Mid-Atlantic States it is Sept. 10 to Oct. 20, in the West it is Sept. 11 to Oct. 31.

3. Hawks usually move most under sunny skies with mild northwest, north or northeast winds. Broad-winged Hawks require thermals to move.

4. Go hawk-watching at one of the many "official" hawk-watch sites. Or find your own by going to a hill, mountain, or tall structure available to you that has good views to the north, because that is the direction the hawks are coming from.

5. Bring binoculars that are at 8 power, or even 10 power if you have them. Scan slowly back and forth across the sky at different heights to find the hawks. Most hawks will be fairly far away and some may look like specs. Learn hawk shapes at a distance to identify them.

6. Here's a brief look at the most common hawks you will see:


Broad-winged Hawk, adult


Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

* Broad-winged Hawks. These are medium-sized hawks, 16" long, with broad wings, and soar together in groups. Look for the broad black-and-white tail bands seen on the adults, usually visible even at a distance. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks have thin tail bands and dark streaking that is usually heaviest on the sides of the breast.





Sharp-shinned Hawk


* Sharp-shinned Hawks. These are small, about Blue Jay-sized, 12" long, hawks in the accipiter group. They migrate mostly singly with flap-flap-flap glide flight and have short rounded wings and a somewhat long tail that has a squared end.


Cooper's Hawk


* Cooper's Hawks. These are extremely similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, and are a tricky ID challenge, but are somewhat larger, 17" long, with a longer, rounded tail and larger, longer head and similar flight pattern.


American Kestrel


* American Kestrels. These are a type of falcon. They are smaller than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, about 10 1/2" long, with pointed wings and a long tail and fly mainly with continuous flapping.


Merlin


* Merlins. Very similar to a Kestrel but darker and larger, about 12" long. Has broad, pointed wings and a somewhat shorter tail than a Kestrel. Flies swiftly and strongly. See yesterday's blog entry for details on Merlin vs. Kestrel ID.


Turkey Vulture


* Turkey Vultures. Very large, about 27" long, all black birds that constantly soar with their wings held in a V.

7. Keep track of your numbers and turn them in to your local bird or hawk-watching organization.

For more on how to identify hawks, see our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America which has fantastic multiple photos of all the hawks, including them in flight.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I love the kettle! I had one over my house a few years ago, all turkey vultures. (Who else but a birder would have been thrilled with hundreds of vultures over the house?) While I'm not able to participate in a count for various reasons, I do keep my eyes on the sky to see these spectacles of migration!