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!”