Peak Hawk Migration

Red-tailed hawk 2 Steve Baker

by Kathy Bricker, Secretary-Treasurer of Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch


Nearing peak hawk migration

The numbers mount day by day in Mackinaw City as professional biologist Kevin Georg spots and records every individual of every species of hawk flying overhead. “I don’t think I’ve missed any, especially with all the spotting help that volunteers have given me,” he explains. Although this may sound like bragging, Georg is exceptionally modest and, well, professional. “I am pleased to be hired by Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch to document this mighty migration through the tip of the lower peninsula. You have something really special here and no one knows about it.” When Georg came from his home in Pennsylvania to start on the job on March 15, few people braved the frigid weather to join him. Now with both the weather and the numbers of hawks warming up, he expects a lot of company in the coming few weeks.

Rough-legged hawk ID chart Steve Baker

MSRW Chair Ed Pike reports “This year’s count already approaches 9,000 individual birds of 16 species, all flying north. They winter between southern U.S. all the way into Central and South America as far as Brazil. Mackinaw City is uniquely positioned in front of the first big water these birds encounter on their journey, and it gives them pause.” While they wait for proper wind conditions to aid in the crossing, hawks both hunker down to conserve their energy and actively hunt other birds that also are migrating.

Kathy Bricker Tom Grahame Ed Pike at hawk count by Jim Bricker

The highest number of birds tallied so far are 5,158 red-tailed hawks. “With 14 subspecies, these hawks can be tricky to identify,” says Pike. “Our hawk counter Kevin Georg specializes in doing that, while volunteershelp introduce anyone from the public to this local marvel of migration. It’s free and it’s fun.” He continues,“Nothing compares to watching thousands of hawks circloverhead at one time. They rise so high they go out of sight, lifting on warm air currents like bubbles in a boiling kettle, so are called kettles of hawks. These updrafts of air frequently form cumulus clouds, which may help the hawks detect their presence. We thank Darrow Excavating, Mackinaw City, Emmet County, and many individual and group contributors for enabling the hawk watch this year.

The hawk watch continues until May 31 and is free for the public to enjoy. Wear warm clothes, bring a lawn chair, and your sense of wonder. Binoculars, bird books, and identification guides are available for loan. You can see other migrating birds as well, including Eastern bluebirds and tree, chipping, savannah, and vesper sparrows. Follow the hawk signs posted on West Central Avenue from downtown Mackinaw City. For information and photographs, visit For the scientific data, and click on Research.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s