I went on a Hawk Watch during my October hiking trip to Acadia National Park. Call me a nerd, but I think hawks are interesting.
- Hawks see much farther than people do – and eight times more clearly.
- This keen eyesight plus their hooked beaks and taloned feet make them effective predators. But they also pirate food.
- Female hawks are larger than males, sometimes twice so, and most pairs mate for life.
- The most common hawk in North America is the red-tail, but not all of its 14 subspecies have the distinctive coloration.
- Northern birds migrate south during the winter.
Which brings me back to the Hawk Watch.
Every year, from August to October, park rangers, volunteers, and visitors gather on the northern ridge of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to count the migrating raptors. The purpose of this data collection, to which Hawk Watches throughout the U.S. contribute, is to monitor the populations of hawks to ensure their preservation.
According to the National Park Service, there’s been a large increase in the numbers of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and osprey compared to the 1970s. From the 1940s to 1970s, their populations were severely threatened by the pesticide DDT, which caused eggshells to thin and few young to survive. It was banned in 1972.
What do eagles and falcons have to do with hawks, you’re asking. That’s another fact you should know: “Hawk” is the general term for some 270 species of birds which are daytime predators.
Most of the migrating hawks we saw that day from Cadillac Mountain were sharp-shinned hawks. “Sharpie west of Ironbound,” the Raptor Intern Delora would call out. All binoculars would then search the sky for the speck.
Veteran volunteers were savvy about identifying birds and all of the islands in Frenchman Bay. They had great equipment. They were also warmly dressed and had snacks.
For the rest of us Raptor Ranger Lora had plenty of information and a tray of brownies. Visitors came and went; kids participating in the Junior Ranger program interviewed Ranger Lora.
You can learn more about what goes on at a Hawk Watch in Acadia National Park by reading the “Riding the Winds” journals, created each year by Acadia’s raptor interns. This year Delora Hilleary, shown below with a raptor specimen, added stunning illustrations to her observations about the migrating raptors.