For the Birds Radio Program: Hawk Ridge Weekend

Original Air Date: Sept. 4, 1996

September 13-15 is Hawk Ridge Weekend in Duluth. Laura Erickson talks about this annual rite of passage on today’s For the Birds. (3:41) Date confirmed

Audio missing


Hawk Ridge Weekend this year begins on Friday the 13th, but hawks aren’t particularly superstitious, at least as far as I know, so they may well be flying despite the ominous date. This annual rite of passage draws thousands of people to Duluth, where they gather at Hawk Ridge and direct their eyes skyward to witness the spectacle of hawks winging by on their way south. The mysteriousness of the migration is partly numeric—on the Saturday of Hawk Ridge Weekend in 1993, 49,615 hawks passed over. Like any number, 49,615 is a cold abstraction, but it vividly quantifies the incredible nature of this spectacle.

The migration’s mystery also includes banding data—Sharp-shinned Hawks that were caught at the Hawk Ridge research station have turned up in every single country of Central America and two countries in South America, yet individual Sharp-shins banded at Hawk Ridge have also turned up in the dead of winter in Tomah, Wisconsin. How does each bird know where to go? Why does every Broad-wing cross the border while most Red-tails stay in the United States? Why do kestrels have such delicate, buoyant flight while their close relatives, Merlins, cruise by like bullets? We keep a plastic owl decoy our during migration, which attracts hawks in for closer looks. Why do merlins and sharpies attack it with such ferocity, as many as twelve or fifteen times before moving on? They must certainly know after a strike or two that it’s a fake—are they angry with it for tricking them?

The hawk migration is a mystery and a spectacle, and Hawk Ridge Weekend is a great time to observe it. It’s also a great time to meet people. The guys from National Camera in the Twin Cities come every year and set out a huge assortment of binoculars and spotting scopes for people to check out—that’s the only place and time I know of where you can literally field test binoculars before buying. Since National Camera doesn’t actually sell things up there, you can decide on a pair and then shop around for the best price at your convenience. The Raptor Center brings up some education birds, and a few local authors associated with the ridge hawk our wares. Hawk Ridge t-shirts, sweatshirts, and patches are set out on a rock for sale, and a local vendor sells food and pop. But the best thing about hawk Ridge Weekend isn”t commercial—if s the festival of people and birds coming together once a year to enjoy the day and the place and the fine company we find in thermal air currents and high pressure systems and blue sky and companionability.

This year’s Hawk Ridge weekend features Wildlife biologist Lisa Hartman on Friday night speaking about Turkey Vultures—and bringing a live one for close observation, and then photographer Arthur Morris on Saturday night, speaking about ecotourism at North American birding hotspots. The evening programs take place at UMD, in Bohannon Hall. Early morning field trips Saturday and Sunday round out the weekend. I’ll be there from Friday evening through Sunday noon—come on up and see us!