How to Watch the Fall Raptor Migration



From left: Kevin Wall, director of education and Mike Bartlett, NH Audubon president

Photo by John Hession

Come September, the raptors — birds of prey like hawks, eagles and falcons — start to migrate. Thanks to NH Audubon, you can have the amazing experience of seeing them up close as they make their way to distant places. “You can see hundreds — even thousands — of migrating raptors in a single day,” says Mike Bartlett, NH Audubon president (shown here at right with Kevin Wall, director of education). The program is just part of the extensive work of NH Audubon, which this year celebrates its centennial.

When it started 100 years ago, the aim was to protect birds in public parks and along highways, to prevent the wearing of feathers of wild birds and to have ornithology taught in schools. A few years after NH Audubon was incorporated in 1914, the mission became more general: “To create public sentiment which shall realize the beauty and value of feathered friends, and to prevent their wanton destruction.”

Today, NH Audubon can look back on many accomplishments. Among them, it has been a leader, along with state and federal partners, in the restoration of Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons to the state. It has become the “go to” conservation organization for science-based policy advice on issues ranging from the decline of the bird population to the impacts of energy policy on wildlife. And it is the premier statewide environmental educational organization — reaching more than 20,000 children and adults a year.

The migratory raptor program starts in September. What exactly is that? Each fall, NH Audubon biologists and volunteers track the migration of raptors at two well-known raptor migration hotspots — Pack Monadnock Mountain in Peterborough and Carter Hill Orchard in Concord. The general public is welcome. Data are shared with the Hawk Migration Association of North America and becomes part of a long-term international database.

What has been determined from the data you collect? Audubon staff records species and numbers of migrating raptors through a scientific approach so we can track population changes — or changes in migratory routes — year to year. Thanks to the international database (hawkcount.org), we can assess and analyze trends across a broad scale. In the Northeast, we have determined that the populations of many raptor species are stable or even increasing. For example, Bald and Golden Eagles have both recovered well. On the other hand, American Kestrels and Northern Harriers are declining.

You’ve called the experience “awe-inspiring.” In what way? Most visitors are pleasantly surprised to learn that you can see hundreds — even thousands — of migrating raptors in a single day. Last fall, a group of fourth graders from Concord watched a cloud of 1,200+ Broad-winged Hawks break into a stream and float by in just minutes.

Do you have a favorite raptor? The Peregrine Falcon. It is a beautiful animal, strong and swift and efficient.

It’s said that raptors have a more positive outlook than other birds. True? It’s easy to have a positive outlook when you’re at the top of the food chain.

People can find raptors kind of scary. Are they? Only if you’re a mouse!

What do you see ahead in the next 100 years for NH Audubon? Audubon will be a place that people continue to turn to for science-based information but also for personal renewal as they connect with the environment as a way to deal with the challenges of a changing world.

 

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