Hawk Watching Terms


A genus of 50 largely forest-dwelling species of raptors with short, rounded wings and long tails.  Eastern North American representatives include the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Northern Goshawk.  The group is known for its rapid, maneuverable flight, and for its flap-flap-flap-glide flight pattern.


A genus of 28 largely open-habitat raptors with long, broad wings and short tails. Eastern North American representatives include the Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.  Buteos, which are sluggish in flight compared to accipiters, are known for their soaring.


A European common name for a buteo.  Misused in North America as a common name for vultures.


The wrist of the bird.  “Carpel patches” are on the underwing approximately midway between the body and the wingtip.

Cold front.

A large-scale, synoptic weather event in which cold, high-pressure air passes through an area, typically from northwest to southeast.  In eastern North America, cold fronts, which are often accompanied by northwesterly winds and followed by cold, fair weather, produce some of the best hawk flights.


The official observer and recorder for each day’s count at Hawk Mountain’s North Lookout.  The counter observes the migration from “the pit.”


Literally, two intersecting planes.  In birds, the term refers to species that hold their wings above the horizontal in a shallow “V.”


A member of the genus Falco, a group of 37 falcons and falcon-like  birds with long, pointed wings, and long tails.  Eastern North American representatives include the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Gyrfalcon.  Falcons are known for their rapid, level flight, and extremely rapid stooping flight.


To fly, without flapping, usually on somewhat tucked wings, while losing altitude. Gliding birds gain lift by deflecting air over their wings.  


One binocular field.  “A glass over number one” means a bird is one binocular field over the portion of the ridge known as Number One. 


A member of the genus Circus, a group of 13 largely open-habitat raptors with long wings and long tails.  The Northern Harrier is the only harrier in North America.  Harriers are known for their slow and low, graceful, coursing flight.


Taxonomically speaking, an accipiter, although the term is often used to include all small- to medium-sized raptors, including harriers, buteos, and the Osprey.


To gather together and flock while soaring upwardly in a thermal. The behavior is typical of migrating Broad-winged Hawks.  Also the name of the small valley southeast of the North Lookout between the Kittatinny Ridge and Owl’s Head. 

Leading line.

Leading lines are mountain ranges and shorelines that serve to funnel and concentrate migrating  raptors.  The Atlantic coastline of New Jersey is a leading line for many raptors, especially falcons.  The central Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania are a leading line for many raptors, especially buteos.


The forewing between the body and the wrist.


To gain lift and fly horizontally or upwardly in rising air without flapping.  “Slope soaring” occurs when birds soar in updrafts created by winds deflected up and over a hill or mountain.  “Thermal soaring” occurs when birds soar in pockets of warm, rising air.


A rising column or pocket of warm air, created when solar radiation differentially heats the earth’s surface.


The upward movement of air created when horizontal winds are deflected up and over a mountain or hill.

Baker Tilly