For the Birds Radio Program: Hawk Ridge

Original Air Date: Sept. 12, 1989

3:10 (recast from 9-14-87) (Date verified)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Sharp-shinned Hawk)

The hawks are flying again over Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. People who want to travel to Duluth to see the hawks often wonder just how to time their trip so they’ll be here on a good flight day. The problem is, good flights depend on weather conditions, which in Duluth are not all that predictable. When you plan a fall trip to Duluth, you can either trust in the long range predictions of the U.S. Weather Service, or just come up when you have a free day and hope for the best–either method seems about equally successful.

Hawks fly in greatest numbers when the wind is from the northwest. North or west winds can be quite good, too. The poorest flights tend to be on foggy days when the wind is from the east–those are the days to forget about hawks and head out to Park Point, where shorebirds and songbirds collect. If the weather’s awful enough, warblers actually sit on the ball field grass and on the beach–a unique opportunity for birdwatchers to see treetop birds from above. As soon as the weather clears, though, head back up to the ridge for the hawks. Their flights are usually best between ten in the morning and two or three in the afternoon.

The species of hawk that flies over in greatest numbers is the Broad-winged Hawk, which collects in huge flocks called kettles during migration. The Broad-wing flight is normally restricted to just a few fine days in early and mid-September, and during this brief period about 50,000 pass by every year, swirling on thermal air currents before streaming out on their way to South America. The only problems with Broad-wings are that their peak migration is so weather-dependent, and that they often fly so high that they look like tiny specks of pepper rather than real birds. The hawk with the biggest counts from day to day is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This little bird-hunting hawk flies nice and low. Northern Harriers, Turkey Vultures, American Kestrels, and Red-tailed Hawks also make up the bulk of the flight. And throughout September and October, migration is spiced up with occasional glamour birds– like Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons.

This weekend is the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s annual Hawk Ridge weekend. There will be evening programs Friday and Saturday, early morning field trips to several birding spots in the Duluth area, and nature hikes for adults and children up at the ridge. Banders will send captured hawks to the main overlook for people to see and photograph before release. I’ll be up there all day Saturday and Sunday helping people with hawk identification. The cost for the whole weekend’s programs is only $5.00–a real bargain. If you want more information, call me at area 218-525-6171.

(Recording of a Sharp-shinned Hawk)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been For the Birds.