Each year tens of thousands of hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures leave their breeding grounds
and head south along ridges and coastlines. Fall hawk migration is a really big draw for anyone who likes hawks, as they are really easy to see and there are a lot of them. Hawks like to follow updrafts that help them to expend less energy during migration, and they need to be close to land if they want to eat and rest on their way. Updrafts in air are difficult to find along large bodies of water and many raptors tend to concentrate in areas over land waiting for favorable crossing conditions. For this reason, specific geographical locations are considered hot spots for watching these large birds en route south for the winter.
Cape May, New Jersey has been established as the birding capital of the world. As a peninsula on the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May is surrounded by the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Raptors find themselves funneling into Cape May and wait for the right conditions to cross the bay and continue their southern journey. New Jersey Audubon Society has a strong tradition of hawk watching and data collection since 1976. You can visit the official hawk count sponsored by Swarovski Optics, at Cape May Point State Park in Cape May Point, New Jersey. To find out more information, visit the Cape May Bird Observatory website.
Another well-known and popular hawk watching point in the northeast is Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the Appalachian Mountains was established in 1938 as it was identified as a major passageway for raptors during migration. Thousands of hawks follow the updrafts that occur along the Kittatinny Ridge. They can follow these pockets of air and cruise for miles. Hawk Mountain is not only an excellent place to view hawks, but it is also a lovely place to take in the beautiful colors of fall foliage. If you are interested in visiting Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, be sure to check out their website.
And, in Canada, visit Holiday Beach on Lake Ontario. Part of an Important Bird Area, Holiday Beach has an annual Festival of Hawks and is a prime location for early season raptor viewing.
There are plenty of other places to see hawks, but the best places are spots that funnel hawks either through a ridge between mountains or into a peninsula before jumping off to fly over open water. This is the best way to get the highest density of raptors at once as they all want to go the easiest and safest route. Check out hawk watching places near you and enjoy the migration!