Most people who enjoy birds thrill at the sight of a distant raptor, and more so at a hawk, falcon, or eagle overhead. A few very special places provide views of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of hawks a day during migration, especially in the fall. Trained observers with Hawkwatch International, Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA), or other organizations are stationed at such sites to tally raptors during migration and keep records, but visitors are welcome and encouraged to enjoy the show, too. Well, that’s true in non-pandemic years! Here are a few such hawk-watching sites, but there are many more. Visit HawkCount to find one near you and determine if they are operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether visitors are welcome.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
Kempton, Pennsylvania. Hawk Mountain, possibly the most famous hawk-watching site in the East, attracts more than 80,000 visitors annually. Thousands of sharp-shinned hawks are counted in October, and tens of thousands of broad-winged hawks pass over in September. Other raptors seen annually from Hawk Mountain include northern harrier, bald and golden eagles, merlin, and red-shouldered hawk. Visiting this fantastic site in rural Pennsylvania should be at the top of every bird watcher’s bucket list.
San Francisco, California. Operated by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Hawk Hill offers a spectacular vantage point overlooking the Bay Area. The best hawk-viewing days tend to be from September through November, when up to 19 raptor species fly over the site. This is also one of the few remaining breeding areas for the federally endangered Mission blue butterfly.
Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve
Duluth, Minnesota. Hawk Ridge is likely Minnesota’s most famous birding site and for good reason: Hundreds of thousands of raptors fly over the reserve every year. The vastness of Lake Superior creates a natural barrier that birds are reluctant to fly over and this causes southbound migrants to funnel over Hawk Ridge. The reserve is open year round and features more than four miles of hiking trails. October is a good time to see bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and northern goshawks.
Detroit River Hawk Watch at Lake Erie Metropark
Brownstown, Michigan. This is one of the premier fall hawk-watching sites in North America. Each fall, more than 100,000 broad-winged hawks pass over the park as they cross the Detroit River from Ontario, Canada, to the east. Good numbers of golden eagles are seen here in late October through November. Swainson’s hawk, a rarity anywhere in the East, is recorded here annually in small numbers.