2 million raptors pass central Panama

Largest one-day count in history

Posted on November 24, 2014 in Raptor News

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary today reports a new record in raptor migration: the largest one-day count in history, more than 2 million soaring hawks that funneled over Panama on November 2, and the fun part is that drone technology recorded the event.

“Ten years ago we planted a seed in Panama when Hawk Mountain and our conservation partner Panama Audubon completed the first-ever Ocean-to-Ocean migration count,” says Dr. Keith Bildstein, the Sanctuary’s Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science. 

Bildstein explains that long-distance migrants soar south during autumn, they filter south through Central and into South America, and avoid crossing water. 

“That means areas with narrow land passages can see incredible concentrations overhead, and some places such as Veracruz, Mexico, and Kekoldi, Costa Rica see more than one million raptors in one season. But never before has anyone seen more than a million in one day,” he explains. “The two million count completely demolishes any previous record.”

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a non-profit organization dedicated to raptor conservation, and focuses exclusively on migratory raptors. Part of their work includes providing professional training for young raptor biologists, and Bildstein is proud to report that three Hawk Mountain trainees were involved in the “Big Day” that occurred on November 2. 

One of our trainees was instrumental in coordinating the first count in Panama in 2004, and this year, three trainees participated in the count, and one, Ramiro Duque, co-edited the video taken from the drone.  

 The migration also illustrates the importance of land conservation to protect entire species. Since the birds migrate by day, they rely upon the forests to rest, roost and feed. Rosabel Miro, the executive director of the Audubon in Panama, told news stations that it reinforces the need for legislation to protect the mangroves of the Bay of Panama. 

The final tally on November 2 was 2,105,060 birds, most of them turkey vultures and Swainson’s hawks and doubles the previous one-day record of almost 900,000 tallied in a single day last year. The annual hawk migration tally is held annually October 1 through November 18 on Ancon Hill, the landmark at the Pacific gateway to the Panama Canal, and is sponsored by Fundacion Natura. 

Other million-raptor migration watchsites globally are few, and include Veracruz, Mexico, which sees an average 5 million raptors per year, Eliat, Isreal, Kekoldi, Costa Rica, and Batumi Georgia on the coast of the Red Sea.