By Laura Carberry, Audubon Naturalist and Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge Manager
Each fall thousands of raptors fly south through New England on their way to wintering grounds. Some travel as far as Central and South America. This migration starts in late August and ends in November, but the peak time to observe the hawks is typically mid-September through mid-October. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut all have great places to watch this wonderful migration.
Broad-winged Hawks migrate first, flying inland over mountain ridges. They form kettles (hundreds of birds together) as they catch thermals to glide south. Osprey, American Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons are soon to follow. Red-tailed Hawks and Eagles take up the rear, leaving in mid-October and November.
When heading out to observe hawk migration, watch the weather for a cold front to come through. Typically the birds will follow two to three days later. They look for northerly winds to help them move south.
Hawk identification during migration can be tricky because the birds are in motion, high in the air. Their flapping patterns tend to be modified, and they often hold their wings and tail differently when they are moving with the thermals. Looking closely at the bird’s tail length and for short, long or absent finger tips are all helpful. Most of all, identification takes practice. Hawk watching spots often have expert volunteers counting birds and they can be very helpful in pointing out and identifying the
hawks. But realize they are also there doing a job, so they may be distracted counting the birds if it’s a busy day.
In Massachusetts, Wachusett Mountain State Reservation is one of the top spots to look for Broad-winged Hawks. Large kettles of Broadwings, Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks and falcons can be seen from the top of the mountain. There are usually tally boards at the bottom and top of the mountain. Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania is also a great destination for Hawk watching in fall if you want to travel further.
In Connecticut, Lighthouse Point in New Haven is a great place to look for hawks. Late in October this can be a location to spot Bald and Golden Eagles. Quaker Ridge in Greenwich is a good spot for Broadwings in September.
Rhode Island doesn’t have any mountain ridges, but you can head to the coast for falcons, accipiters and eagles. Napatree Point in Westerly is a great spot. The birds fly over the dunes, and on a good day you can see a stream of them. Block Island in the fall can also be great for falcons. Peregrine, Merlins and Kestrels can all be seen. The island bluffs and Audubon’s Lewis Dicken’s farm are great places to see them flying through the sky.
Whether you stay close at home or travel to a neighboring state, fall can be a great way to get your fill of raptors. And don’t forget to visit Audubon Raptor Weekend on September 8 & 9 in Bristol for an upclose look at these lovely birds! Hope to see you there!