Fall & Spring Bird Migration Counts
You can view our live spring raptor count at either of these links:
Spring Migration Count
The birds fly south in the fall, so they must fly north in the spring, right? Yes! However, the best places to view the spring bird migration is further southwest off West Skyline Parkway in Duluth. The fall bird migration research and education takes place at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve in the fall (click HERE for more info on fall visitation). Raptors flying north through our area in the spring are a little more spread out…we don’t have as great of a natural funnel for northward migration as we do at Hawk Ridge for the southward migration in the fall, but our spring migration is still AMAZING. In fact, we have the highest daily count totals for Bald Eagles in the world, as well as record totals for several other species!
Best Time to View the Spring Migration
The count starts March 1 and continues daily (weather pending) through May 31. Timing of species arrival is the reverse of what it is in the fall. The first arrivals in the spring are the larger raptors, such as EAGLES, both bald & golden, and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS. Not long after that the RED-TAILED HAWKS arrive. BROAD-WINGED HAWKS and SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS begin showing up in April. In the spring, smaller birds such as Sharp-shinned Hawks and American Kestrels tend to stay down along the shore, out of range of our counters. The Northern Goshawk route is a bit of a mystery for now–our highest number for goshawks in one day during the spring is four
Peak for each species (high counts listed)
- Eagles: around March 25 (Bald: 400-500/day; Golden: 10/day)
- Rough-legged Hawks: April 10-20 (up to 75/day)
- Red-tailed Hawks: April 10-20 (1,000-2,000/day)
- Broad-winged Hawks: May 1-10 (3,000-4,000/day)
- Sharp-shinned Hawks: April 10-20 (up to 450/day)
SOUTH or SOUTHWEST winds are best for big numbers of northward migrating raptors. I am happy to report the following: these are usually days with beautiful weather! WEST winds are also good, and the counters report that there are birds “on any wind”. Birds are on a mission in the spring to get to nesting territories! This means they’re not taking their time waiting for perfect migrating weather. Numbers are, however, greatly reduced in inclement weather such as fog, snow, rain, sleet, or hail.
Another spring advantage is GREAT looks! The cold ground doesn’t promote the development of huge thermals, so the birds are generally much lower, riding updrafts along the ridge instead. The ground doesn’t warm up until late May, so until then the birds will be quite low. Previous counters have reported Bald Eagles within 40 feet of them, riding the updrafts along the ridges!
Plan Your Visit to the Spring Count
We are excited for another spring bird migration season this year at Hawk Ridge West Skyline Spring Count! We welcome visitors to join us this March 1 – May 31 to enjoy watching the beautiful birds making their way back to their summer homes. As we’re still in the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask that visitors please follow any safety guidelines set forth or mandated by local, state, or federal authorities. This will help ensure the health and well-being of our staff and visitors. Here are some other helpful points to note for visiting:
- Please note we have limited staff and volunteers during the spring migration. We will do our best to answer visitor questions, but may need to pause to conduct our count research accurately. If staff have put up safety cones, we ask that visitors remain outside of these marked areas. With limited migration viewing space on the roadside, please do your best to safe distance from staff and other visitors.
- There are no restrooms on site at the viewing pull-offs, but the Thompson Hill Rest Area may be open for use or portable toilet(s)/restroom may be available near/at Enger Park for visitors to use. We suggest bringing your own personal hand sanitizer.
- We recommend bringing your own chair, optics, field guides, sunscreen, clothing layers, hat, sunglasses, food/drink, or anything else you need to be comfortable during your time viewing the migration. We will not be able to share optics or loan binoculars with visitors during the pandemic.
- Limited parking may be available along the roadside, but is not guaranteed. You may have to park elsewhere, such as Twin Ponds Parking Area or Enger Park Golf Course and walk. Please continue reading below for directions and other helpful info.
WHERE is the spring count (DIRECTIONS)?
Good question! The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
In S, SW, SE, N, NW or W winds: Enger Tower.
Directions: From Hwy 35, take the Hwy 53 North exit (255A) in Duluth and continue on Hwy 53 North / Piedmont Ave to the stoplight where Piedmont Avenue splits off. Turn LEFT onto Piedmont Avenue, drive 1 block and turn LEFT onto 24th Ave West, then drive another block and turn LEFT onto West Skyline Parkway. Continue past the Enger Golf Course on West Skyline Parkway to a pullout overlook just below Enger Tower (marked with a sign, “Rice’s Point). You’ll come to West 5th Street if you go too far. If you don’t see anyone at the overlook with binoculars, try the Thompson Hill site.
In NE or E winds: Thompson Hill.
Directions: From Hwy 35, take the Boundary Avenue exit (249) and cross to the north side of the freeway. Turn RIGHT onto West Skyline Parkway as if going to the Thompson Hill Rest Stop. Drive past the first rest stop entrance to the overlook directly below the rest stop. (You’ll come to the second rest stop entrance if you go too far.)
What ACTIVITIES are going on during the spring count?
Bird Migration Count Research is the primary activity currently taking place at the spring count site with public education/interpretation as available. The counter(s) will do their best to point out “viewable” birds, but please keep in mind, we may have some very busy migration days with limited staff. If you are interested in a private program about the spring migration (school group or other group – civic, touring, etc,), please contact Margie Menzies at email@example.com or (218) 428-8722.
Spring Count Reports
Fall Migration Count
The main overlook at Hawk Ridge where the fall migration count takes place sits on a rocky ridge one mile from Lake Superior and about 550 feet above the lake. In the lower foreground is the Lakeside neighborhood, in the mid distance is the lakeshore itself, and on the far horizon, from left to right, is Wisconsin, the City of Duluth and the St. Louis River estuary.
The counting of raptors began in 1951 as a weekend count in September. It was done by volunteers for the next two decades with coverage that varied from 4 to 42 days a year. Consistent coverage of the peak migration – early September through early November – started in 1972 which was also the first year of operation of the banding station. Starting in 1991 the migration count expanded to coverage from mid-August through late November.
The results of the trial count beginning in 1971 to the standardized count from 1972 to present are published by HawkCount, the database maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America. Summary information about the migration timing and monthly statistics are available at the Hawkwatch Site Profile for Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory on Hawk Count.
The fall bird migration count at Hawk Ridge is one of the highest in North America by numbers and species diversity. An average of over 60,000 raptors and over 200,000 other birds are counted each fall. You can view details in reports below.
Western Great Lakes Owl Monitoring (click here for more info)
Image Credits: Andrew Longtin