Fall Migration is in Full Swing at Hawk Ridge

DULUTH, MN – As we transition into fall, raptors that have spent their summers as far north as the Arctic can be seen congregating in large numbers at Hawk Ridge as part of their migration.  When migrating, they don’t like to fly over large bodies of water, so when they get to Lake Superior, they veer to the southwest and are funneled through Duluth, making it an excellent location for counting the birds.

Hawk Ridge is unique in how the interaction between Lake Superior and the shoreline assists the birds in their migration.

“What happens with this cold body of water is that there’s warm air that gets pushed up against the ridges.  It creates these updrafts, these big warm pockets of air which create thermals, and these birds are able to circle up which we are seeing today.  We have lots of large groups of birds that are moving through called kettles. So as they’re rising up in those thermals, they are able to come out of those kettles and soar for really long distances with expending very little energy,” said Janelle Long, executive director at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

The fall peak migrating season for Hawk Ridge is from mid-September until late October when upwards of 80,000 birds pass though on average. Nearly 20 different species of raptors and vultures can be seen during any given year ranging from the common broad-winged hawk, to the rare peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon. While some may come just to see the birds in general, others travel long distances in hopes of spotting some of the more uncommon species.

“It’s rare to see a lot of these guys. Not so much red-tail hawks, but a lot of the hawks it’s rare to see them. But in the numbers up here, it’s incredible.  I love Northern Harriers. I don’t know why, they’re my favorite, and I think I spotted one on the north side here, so I’m happy,” said Ariel Christian who is visiting from Madison.

If you aren’t familiar with the types of birds that are migrating, naturalists are there to assist both veterans and newcomers alike every day from 9 until 4 through October 31.

“Our staff and volunteers, that’s what they’re here for. They’re here to help share the excitement of the migration, help people learn about birds, pointing out birds. We have binoculars that people are able to loan if they don’t have that equipment,” said Long.

If you do decide to venture up to Hawk Ridge for the first time, even if you aren’t able to catch one of the naturalists, chances are you will encounter a veteran bird watcher who is willing to help you enjoy the experience.

“Even people that aren’t staff or naturalists here, I can just ask anybody here where they’ve been seeing birds or what kinds they think they’ve been seeing. Everybody is just willing to help each other out and talk and bond over these birds,” said Christian

This year is special because it is the 50 year anniversary of Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve and it is being celebrated with speakers, programs, and other events starting Thursday, September 22. Several of these events are already full, but you can check out the full schedule at hawkridge.org.  If you still aren’t sure how to get started, just head up to Hawk Ridge and look up.

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