Bird Monitoring

Fall & Spring Bird Migration Counts

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)

You can view our live raptor count at either of these links:

 View LIVE Spring Count 20201 (March 1 – May 31, 2021) or View Raptors Only Count Data here (HMANA)

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

Visitor Info for Viewing the Spring Bird Migration at the West Skyline Spring Count during COVID-19 Pandemic

We are excited for another spring bird migration season this year at Hawk Ridge West Skyline Spring Count! We are planning to be operational and visitors will be welcome. However, please keep in mind we are a nonprofit organization operating our bird migration research and education efforts with very limited staff and resources.

Due to COVID-19 and funding limitations, we will not have the same level of in-person education programs offered this spring (please click HERE for our virtual program offerings). We have put safety precautions in place to ensure the health and well-being of our staff and visitors. We ask for your compliance and understanding with these safety measures. Guidelines may also change pending regulations mandated by local, state, federal authorities.

We ask all visitors to please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • We expect all visitors to follow CDC social distancing guidelines and remain at least 6 feet away from staff and other visitors.
  • With limited safe migration viewing space on the roadside, please wear a mask if other visitors are nearby. You can view the mask information from the Hawk Migration Association of North America HERE.
  • The safety of our staff is a top priority. Please keep your distance (at least 6 feet) from staff. If you have a question for our staff, a mask is required. We will have masks available for visitors. If staffs have put up safety cones, we ask that visitors remain outside of these marked areas.
  • There are no restrooms on site, but the Thompson Hill Rest Area may be open or a portable toilet near Enger Park for visitors to use. We recommend bringing your own personal hand sanitizer. We will not be able to share optics or loan binoculars with visitors this spring, so please bring your own. We recommend bringing your own chair, food, drink, optics, field guides, sunscreen, clothing layers, hat, sunglasses, or anything else you need to be comfortable during your time viewing the migration. Limited parking may be available along the roadside, but 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.

We look forward to your visit and by following these safety guidelines, we are confident that we’ll experience another safe and astounding spring bird migration this year! We will continue to monitor the recommendations and any government orders as the season progresses, so please check our website at hawkridge.org or Facebook page for potential updates. You can also contact us directly at mail@hawkridge.org or (218) 428-6209 with further questions.

Hawk Migration Association of North America’s Top 10 COVID-19 Guidelines when Visiting a Hawk Watch

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 mmenzies@hawkridge.org or (218) 428-8722.

Spring Count Reports

West Skyline Spring Count 2020 Summary

2020 link to Spring Count data (numbers/species)

2019 Spring Migration Count Report

2019 link to Spring Count data (numbers/species)

2018 Spring Migration Count Report

2018 Spring Count Data (numbers/species) HERE

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.

Hawk Ridge Main Overlook Panoramic View Photo by Andrew Longtin

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.

Graphs that summarize the four decades of the raptor count

2018 Fall Migration Count Report

2017 Fall Migration Count Summary

2016 Fall Raptor Count Report

2016 Fall Non-Raptor Count Report

Plan Your Visit to the Fall Count (Sept-Oct)

Image Credits: Andrew Longtin

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