August 15, 2016

Annual Autumn Hawkwatch is Underway

Nature's Greatest Airshow

Hawk Mountain invites visitors to watch and monitor the annual passage of raptor migrants as they move south during the Autumn Hawk Watch, held daily August 15 through December 15 at the Sanctuary’s famous North Lookout. Trail fees apply for non-members and cost $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Members are admitted free year-round, and memberships can be purchased online or at the Visitor Center.

During the count, Sanctuary staff, trainees, and volunteers will be stationed at the lookouts to help visitors spot and identify raptors including broad-winged hawks, kestrels, vultures, ospreys, and bald eagles. An average of 18,000 raptors pass the Sanctuary each autumn. For raptor enthusiasts and those who cannot make it to Hawk Mountain, daily counts are posted throughout the season at

Equipped with binoculars and a full daypack, visitors are invited to spend the day at North Lookout to enjoy the breathtaking autumn colors and soaring raptors. Binoculars can be rented at the Visitor Center, and staff members there can offer tips and suggestions for trails and lookouts. The nearby South Lookout may be preferable to those with small children or with limited mobility, and it can be reached using the new wheelchair accessible Silhouette Trail.

The new Silhouette trail now features a gallery of life-size, in-flight silhouettes of 7 of the world's 22 species of vultures and condors, including the Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Californian Condor, and more. The one-of-a-kind display will remain in place throughout the entirety of Autumn Migration into December. 

"Hawk Mountain's lookouts give people an unparalleled view of hawks in flight," said Laurie Goodrich, Director of Long-term Monitoring. "On windy days, hawks and other migrating birds hug the ridge passing close to watchers below. It's an amazing sight."

During the fall migration, there will also be weekend programs, free with paid trail fee, on Saturdays and Sundays, September 3 through November 13. Additionally, on Saturdays in September and October, several notable speakers will give talks on their experiences and expertise as part of the Fall Lecture Series. Information about all of these programs can be found at 

Peak Migration:

For migrants, timing is everything, and different species migrate at predictable times. Passing through in late summer are ospreys, bald eagles, hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. In early mornings, colorful songbirds pass in waves on their own migration. This also is the last chance to enjoy the still-green, but subtly changing Appalachian Mountain views and balmy weather.

In mid-September, broad-winged hawk numbers build. These small, round-winged hawks fly in large flocks, and gain altitude in circling thermals, or rising columns of air, before gliding by gracefully. If your timing is right, you can spot hundreds of broadwings in an afternoon.

By mid-October, northwest winds bring the greatest species diversity—16 in all—and fall foliage is at its peak. During prime conditions, visitors can get good views of red-tailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons, and merlins.

In November, the migration begins to slow, but this is when hawkwatchers can expect to see golden eagles and northern goshawks. By December, the skies have emptied, but the North Lookout draws visitors seeking solitude and an occasional bald eagle.