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Big Day on the Hawk Deck!

Big Day on the Hawk Deck!

Saturday was the eBird-sponsored Global Big Day, and the hawks here at Whitefish Point made it a big one. I’ve already done well for Broad-winged Hawk this season — earlier this week they usurped second place from previous number two, Red-tailed — but with today’s spectacle their season total has just about doubled! When nine o’clock rolled around I was fresh off snagging my first-of-year Northern Parula and Nashville and Chestnut-sided Warblers on a quick stroll through the woods, but unlike the prior few days the skies were devoid of Sharpies, and I couldn’t have guessed what the day would become.

They started out slowly. A lone Broad wing a few minutes in. Another. Then two more, quickly followed by an

Over 3,000 Sharp-shinned Hawks were counted over two days this week on the hawk count. Photo by Gary Palmer.

additional four. The trickle grew — a dozen, twenty, thirty. Before I knew it, the first hour of the count was wrapping up, and a total of 90 Broad-wings hung in the sky; not a bad start! I took my eyes off the decent-sized kettle that had formed for just a minute, to tally my Turkey Vultures and keep an eye on the slow stream of Sharpies. A few minutes later and another scan of the distance above the treetops to my west; I could hardly believe what I saw — out of thin air had appeared hundreds more Broad-wings! My count quickly doubled, then doubled again, already past my previous season high count, and it was only just over an hour into the day.

By the end of the second hour more than 1,000 Broad-wings were in view! Loose tornadoes of migrating hawks filled the air in front of me, from shore to shore, stretching from the tip of the point behind me, high over my head, and out as far in front as I could see. Swirls of spinning hawks dotted the sky everywhere I looked. And they kept coming! Before long, the tally peaked at just under 1,500 Broad-wings counted in a single scan. The humongous kettles were constantly in flux, each pan I made of the great expanse in front of me revealed vastly different combinations of kettles, each containing hundreds of birds. Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, a couple Rough-legs and what could well end up being the final Golden Eagle of the season all joined the melee. It truly was among the most fantastic displays of migration I’ve seen in my entire life!

Broad-wings are far from the only birds putting up solid numbers from the hawk deck lately. With a set of back-to-back days each surpassing a total of 1,000 individuals, Sharp-shinned hawks blew past the 10,000 mark this week and just yesterday slipped by last

With a push of young birds, Bald Eagles hit their second-highest count of the season this weekend. Photo by Gary Palmer.


year’s season total of 10,880. They may be tapering off for the season now, as Saturday saw a relatively meager 90 Sharpies, but only time will tell. One of my biggest surprises upon scanning my data at the end of the day Saturday though was the count of 26 Bald Eagles, making it the second highest single day total for the season, just behind March 29th’s tally of 33.

American Kestrels perhaps are my most surprising hawk numbers — with a quarter of my season left to go, I’ve already more than doubled last year’s total, with 650 compared to 306! There’s still thousands of birds to come before the count ends on the 31st, so plan your next visit to Whitefish Point soon, and in the meantime, dig through our interactive data displays at Dunkadoo, compare this year’s numbers to every season since 1979 over at Hawk Count, and scout the totals for all species of birds seen each day at Whitefish on our WPBO eBird account. See you at the Point!

2017-05-14T08:00:56+00:00May 14th, 2017|Migration Counts|2 Comments


  1. LOUISE AND KONA May 15, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Gary & Skye….I told you that they would come. WHAT a day so glad that I stopped for another look for the year!!! WOW. By far the biggest kettels I’ve seen and what a fantastic display!! And, now (thanks to your expertise) I can identify the Kestrel in flight. Thank you so much for an amazing week. Your friendliness, expertise and just general “good people” made my week exactly what I needed. I told you….you teach me and I’ll feed you. I wish you the best and FLY….FLY AND BE FREE!!!! See you next year. Take Care…Julie Ann (aka Louise) and Kona

  2. Tobey May 15, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    A big “Thank You” to Gary for all his help at the Hawk Watch. His knowledge and willing to share it is invaluable. My wife have visited with Gary twice. The last time was Sunday the 14th. Hope to see him again next year.
    Thanks again. John and Kathy

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