Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fall 2016 Migration Recap

The Vista from the Ridge
Fall 2016 Migration Recap

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, our nation’s emblem
since 1782. Its numbers continue to increase thanks to
 comprehensive conservation efforts. Photo by Karl Bardon. 

February 2017

Dear Friend of Hawk Ridge,

The 2016 fall migration was another record-breaking, thought-provoking season at Hawk Ridge. A total of 415,604 migrants were counted, slightly below 2015’s half-a-million.

Here are some highlights—and some questions. But first, thank you for your membership and support. You’re keeping our eyes on the skies and helping researchers around the world unlock the mysteries of migration—so we can better protect our global natural treasure of hawks and songbirds.

Raptor Highlights

66,369 raptors counted, slightly below the long-term average.

Totals for Sharp-shinned Hawk, Bald Eagle, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon were greater than any other season since counting began in 1972.

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons continue to rebound from historic lows, demonstrating the effectiveness of targeted conservation efforts.

Merlins are increasing as they adapt to nesting in more urban areas.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk count is especially good news, since this species has been in long-term decline. Typically Hawk Ridge has only one day each season with over 1,000 Sharpies. This fall there were six such days with a peak of 1,454 on September 20.

Finally a respectable Red-tail total! The season total of 8,867 Red-tailed Hawks is the best season since 2006. Is the long period of low Red-tail numbers over?

Of continued concern, counts of Northern Goshawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and American Kestrel were all below average.

What are the reasons for these declines? In the case of Northern Goshawks, it is now well established that invasions no longer happen. As for Broad-winged Hawks, it may be nothing more than weather variables during their peak migration season. Researchers believe the lower numbers of American Kestrels indicate a real decline in population.

Non-raptor Highlights

349,235 non-raptors counted

132 Greater White-fronted Geese, an unprecedented number.

Flocks of American White Pelicans impressively large with a season total of 699.

2016’s non-raptor big surprise—the amazing number of Empidonax flycatchers!  The season total of 394 empids is more than all previous seasons combined.

Crazy numbers again this season for Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets (more than 3,600) and Brown Creeper (173).

Although the number of migrating thrushes heard at night always dwarfs the number actually counted during the day, a record number of more than 1,200 thrushes in the genus Catharus were seen in morning flight fall of 2016.

And the prize goes to the warblers—with a total of 78,297 counted, another season record! October 6, 2016 was the peak day for warblers, when 19,465 were counted. A season total of 27,688 Yellow-rumped Warblers compares to the previous average of only about 3,500!

In the case of all these non-raptor groups of birds, the numbers in recent years are ten times higher than in previous years. These numbers represent very real and recent changes in the migration at Hawk Ridge. What are the reasons for these changes and how long will they last?

Eyes on the Skies

Count Director Karl Bardon has been tirelessly tracking raptors and non-raptors at Hawk Ridge for a decade. In addition, he submits data to the Hawk Migration Association North American and other research groups, files extensive reports for HRBO and its members, and continues to inspire new generations of hawk and songbird counters. Many skilled observers helped him in 2017, including HRBO Counter Alex Lamoreaux, Count Trainee Amy West, Count Interpreter John Richardson, Steve Kolbe, Jan and Larry Kraemer, Kathleen MacAulay, Dave Carman, Stephen Nelson, Russ Edmonds, Allie Pesano, Ian Gardner, Andrew Longtin, Josh Lefever, Joe Beck, Tom Reed, Brian Sullivan, and Jerry Liguori. A round of applause and thanks to all.

As the snow flies this winter season, we hope this Vista from the Ridge is providing happy memories of beautiful fall days on the Ridge in 2016. Stay tuned for new things for our members, like Snapshot from the Ridge, more updates on Facebook (, and exciting plans for Hawk Weekend Festival and upcoming gala in September 2017.

Again, thank you for your support. We simply cannot do this important work without you.

Janelle Long
HRBO Executive Director

Andrew Streitz
HRBO Board Chair