Audubon Guide to Hawk Watching
Ten awesome places to catch one of nature's greatest spectacles.
7. Goshute Mountains
Many top hawkwatch locations are established where migrating raptor populations merge along coastlines or lakeshores. In the arid western interior, few good places for a hawkwatch were known until the early 1980s, when researcher Steve Hoffman hiked up into the Goshute Mountains to see if raptors might be following the north-south ridge system there. They were, and this became one of the first study sites of the newly formed HawkWatch International. It is still a wilderness area, requiring a considerable hike from the nearest parking lot, but the view from the top is worth it. Watchers in the Goshutes see notable numbers of sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, and red-tailed hawks, plus classic western birds like golden eagles and prairie falcons. Click here for more information.
8. Golden Gate Raptor Observatory
Though the West is fine raptor country, the region's geography does not lend itself to the migration densities of the East. Flights along the Pacific coastal plain went largely unnoticed until the 1970s, when Laurence Binford found that hawks were concentrating on the immediate shoreline before crossing the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and sharp-shinned hawks are the most prolific migrants, but considerable numbers of more than a dozen other species use this route. The Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, now hosts counts and research, and a prime hawkwatch is easily accessible from the San Francisco Bay area. Click here for more information.
9. River of Raptors (Cardel and Chichicaxtle)
In central Veracruz the mountains slope down almost to the sea, pinching eastern Mexico's broad, flat coastal plain into a strip only a few miles wide. Raptors from two-thirds of North America channel through the resulting narrow gap, staging one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles. Some four million to six million raptors--including nearly the entire world populations of broad-winged hawks, Swainson's hawks, and Mississippi kites, plus more than a dozen other species of birds of prey--funnel through. On some days in late September and October, hundreds of thousands of raptors swirl overhead. The official count sites are easy to reach. Climb the steps to the roof of Hotel Bienvenidos in Cardel, or park the car next to the soccer field in Chichicaxtle. Click here for more information.
10. Panama Canal
If they're avoiding expanses of open water, birds migrating from North America to South America thread the needle of Panama's narrow isthmus. Only a few raptor species make these long-distance migrations, but spectacular numbers of individuals squeeze through the thin corridor in spring and especially in fall. You can see Mississippi kites, Swainson's hawks, turkey vultures, and broad-winged hawks crossing the Panama Canal Zone during the autumn months. The Panama Audubon Society coordinates a program, called Raptors Ocean to Ocean, to make simultaneous counts from multiple locations within the region during peak migration. At some of these places, such as Ancon Hill, it is possible to see more than a million raptors. Click here for more information.