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Hawk Migrations

Hawk Migrations
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The news is mixed, but it’s mostly not good. There are 51 other sites in New England like Lighthouse Point that record daily and monthly counts stretching back years. Their story is told in raw numbers: Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and ospreys, for instance, have all rebounded strongly since DDT was banned in the early 1970s.

By the end of the season, the eagle count here will eventually reach a record 155. (In 1974, a lone bald eagle was spotted.) The peregrines’ success also jumps out: a record 183 for the fall of 2008, up from just two in 1975. But the broader hawk numbers have been in worrisome decline.

The highest count of sharp-shinned hawks passing over Lighthouse Point occurred in 1981, when 13,925 came through. That number has dwindled steadily, down to 4,229 when 2008 is all totaled. Same for Cooper’s; its 1,160 this fall are half 1993’s count. Banks mentions the effect of poisons that are still present in the hawks’ Mexican and Central American wintering grounds, and the relentless loss of habitat in the Northeast.

Sharp-shinned hawks, for instance, feed primarily on warblers (in addition to other small songbirds), whose numbers are shrinking along with the loss of large tracts of intact forest. American kestrels–besides northern hawk owls the only other diurnal birds of prey on the East Coast to nest in the cavities of dead trees–are finding fewer snags and less of their preferred habitat, tree-lined open farmland, every year.

These trends worry Banks and the other counters, but the thrill of the hunt keeps them excited. Fifteen minutes after Don Morgan, Andrew McGee arrives, down from Northampton, Massachusetts. He’s driven two hours to be here. He introduces himself, and Banks says, “You know Greg? He was here yesterday. Got 825 birds and 15 eagles.”

“Well,” McGee answers, taking a sip of coffee, “I guess I’ll have to beat that!”

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.


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2 Responses to Hawk Migrations

  1. Cynthia Sparks September 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    We have a pair that stay on the hill behind our house. They are beautiful birds.

  2. Vanessa Coutu October 17, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    I wonder if the decline in the number of hawks is because more are wintering here instead of migrating. It seems to me, that I see more hawks around South Eastern Connecticut in the winter, than I ever recall in years past. I have not seen as many kestrels or ospreys during the warmer months. I do see more eagles on the major rivers in eastern Connecticut. I work outside and I have more oportunity to see these birds than the average person. I also have a few bird feeders and the hawks are hunting the feeder birds more in the colder months than ever before. This is just an observation on my part, I have no scientific data to back up my claims. If anyone has noticed this I would like to hear your opinion. I love to watch the birds of prey and am very concerned over their loss of habitat.

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