Getting Hooked on an Amazing Buteo

My First Year as a Broad-winged Hawk Project Volunteer

Posted on in In the Field by Cheryl Faust, HMS Volunteer

Perched Broad-winged Hawk
Perched broad-winged hawk, photo by Cheryl Faust

In early April I received a message and spoke to fellow HMS volunteer, Katie Andrews. She asked me if I ever thought about volunteering for the Broad-winged Hawk Project, and honestly, I never did! She knows I love to go birding, and she thought the project would be a good fit. I emailed Dr. Rebecca McCabe to see if they still needed volunteers, and before I knew it, I was at a training session at the Acopian Center.

I found the training to be educational and fun. Rebecca and Dr. Laurie Goodrich provided us with many visuals to help us find stick nests, including an actual nest that was still intact after it blew out of a tree. I was a little worried that I might not have the physical capabilities to participate—I’ve had 2 knee surgeries—but Laurie assured me they’d find me a relatively flat location to look for activity. After a slideshow presentation, listening to audio of broad-winged hawk calls, I was excited to get started!

I teamed up with fellow volunteer, Mary Duh, who I met at the Sanctuary about eight years ago. We were tasked with searching the Leaser Lake area and possibly the Appalachian Trail above the lake. Our first day was April 15, 2022, and we quickly realized that the area around the North boat launch did not look promising because there were many dead trees. We decided to concentrate on the AT. When we were heading back to our cars, we heard a piercing, high-pitched whistle! We both stopped and said, “Holy cow, was that a broad-winged hawk?” We were not 100% positive, but we were hopeful. For me, hearing a call in the woods I has never heard before was thrilling! I’ve lived in the woods for over 30 years, and this was the first time I heard this call. I was beginning to understand the lure of this elusive buteo.

The next weekend we met and hiked the same direction, but we hiked a trail that took us closer to the top of the mountain, which led us onto State Game Lands 217. At the end of the trail, we came to an opening and hiked the perimeter. Suddenly, we heard that same high-pitched whistle, and I knew it was a broad-winged hawk. We were elated, because the call came from the same direction as the previous weekend.

On Sunday, May 8, Mary and I met at Leaser Lake’s North boat launch so we could carpool up to Springhouse Road and the AT. Unfortunately, Springhouse Road came up empty, so we decided to drive Fort Franklin Road, which took us to the other side of the AT. Just as we got to the mountain top, a broad-winged hawk flew in front of my car and perched in a tree! The flight path was right to left and was as high as the hood of my car. We both froze and didn’t want to move, fearing we would scare the hawk. This hawk was actively hunting, so I slowly reached around to the back seat of my car and got my camera. Luckily, I was able to snap about six decent photos of the bird. I started texting Rebecca, and Mary saw the bird swoop down to the ground. After a minute, the bird flew up again, left to right, and we lost sight of the bird. Rebecca gave us coordinates of a 2015 nest, and we were able to confirm it was just three minutes from where we were. WOW, what a thrill! This was my first non-migrating broad-winged hawk. Not only was hooked, but now I was also being reeled in!

Over the next two weeks, Rebecca and one of the trainees located the nest, and the following week Mary and I were barely able to locate it due to the leaves on the trees. During our next visit, we heard the adults chirping but had no additional sightings. Unfortunately, this specific site did not produce a nest that could be monitored.

We were then asked to move our efforts to the Hamburg Reservoir for the rest of the season. While we did not find any active nests or see any broadwings, we did hear several calls from June 8 to July 8. We will be paying more attention to this area next year!

As I write this, it is early September, and I’m still thinking about broad-winged hawks. Right now they are migrating, taking the land route to their winter territories in South America. Looking back, I had three great “firsts” from my first year. I heard my first broad-winged hawk call, saw my first non-migrating broad-winged hawk, and I even saw my first porcupine. I’m pretty sure I will always get excited when I hear a broad-winged hawk call; it is rare treat that will always make me smile. I would like to thank Laurie, Rebecca, and Katie for introducing me to this amazing hawk that has not only captured my interest, but my heart.