Thousands of Bird Watchers Flock to Witness Fall Migration at Hawk Ridge

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is Hosting Fall Festival Weekend September 20 - 22 in Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. – As of September 1, Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth is celebrating its 48th season of documenting the great fall migration.

This natural phenomenon is attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of bird watchers from local areas, and internationally as the seasons change.

Mother Nature is guiding birds of prey such as raptors toward warmer weather as they follow their source of food.

“Yeah you are just wound up looking at me! Look at that flexibility, isn’t that amazing,” said Margie Menzies, Education Program Director at Hawk Ridge. “This is what this is all about, learning more about these birds and doing as much as we can along those lines.”

The “outdoor classroom” of sorts is open to the public year round, but spring and fall attract many bird enthusiasts eager to watch and learn more.

“This is our peak time of year for the fall bird migration,” said Janelle Long, Executive Director of Hawk Ridge.

For Long, fall is the Super Bowl of migration in the Northland.

“It’s really fun to meet people that live here in Duluth; they’ve been up to Hawk Ride for other reasons. Maybe they come up to hike or walk their dogs, but maybe they haven’t been here during the fall season,” said Long.

As thousands our feathered friends make their way to warmer climates, they’re crossing paths with folks who flock to see their natural delight.

“We’ve documented people from over 50 countries, and every state in the United States,” said Long.

“Here there are many birds,” said Kiyoko, a resident of Kyoto, Japan. “Tiny, tiny birds, so many in the sky. So many birds, it’s awesome!”

This is Kiyoko’s tenth year witnessing a northern fall migration. She travels to the Northland year-after-year specifically for this event.

“I can’t see many birds, especially migrating birds in Japan. I have never seen a migration in Japan, but here I can see it many times,” said Kiyoko.

She and many other bird enthusiasts display smiles as the birds soar past with the occasional squawk or stop for food.

“We even have volunteers that will come and stay for a whole month sometimes just to be up here during the fall bird migration,” said Long.

Long loves explaining to newcomers why Hawk Ridge is so vital to the bird survival when moving south.

“They’ll actually ride what are called thermals. So they are warm pockets of air that rise up into the sky and so those birds are going to soar on those thermal; it almost looks like a tornado like motion as they’re circling up into the air,” said Long. “Once they exit those thermals they’re able to soar for long distances without having to flap their wings.”

The frigid water of Lake Superior is responsible for creating the thermals. As the raptors soar past, dozens of highly trained counters are ready to take the tally for another year of educational and statistical purposes.

“It’s an amazing natural phenomenon that’s happening right here in our own back yard. It’s a worldwide destination for birders who want to witness this event,” said Long.

1,600 migrating raptors were counted at Hawk Ridge on Sunday, September 15.

September 20-22, Hawk Ridge will host its annual Fall Festival Weekend. This includes morning birding field trips, a train ride on the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, along with educational presentations and much more.

Click here to get involved, or to check out the LIVE bird count happening through October 31.

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is a non-profit organization.

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