Thousands of Michigan hawks are making their way south for the winter. And their annual trip is creating a beautiful sight for area bird watchers.
September and October are the peak migration months for hawks. And this year, the majority of them have chosen the past two weeks to make the flight.
In Detroit, residents have reported seeing the raptors resting in their backyards while they travel by the hundreds. And between Oct. 15 and Oct. 20 alone, the Detroit River Hawk Watch has counted 9,934 in the skies. The organization meets at the Lake Erie Metropark every day.
“The curtain rises on a scene of majestic beauty. Brilliant sunshine highlights the edges of the towering mass of near-black, backlit clouds receding over Lake Erie that had just recently dropped rain on the area,” HawkCount wrote Oct. 17. “The skies are filled with turkey vultures and sharpies taking advantage of the gap in the forecast rainy periods to flee the reach of the low-pressure center.”
Each Year, Hawks Follow a Specific Flight Plan Across the Great Lakes
Many people don’t realize that hawks make fall and spring migrations. But those who live near the Great Lakes don’t just know about the event, they also make it a point to watch.
Hawks and other birds of prey follow a specific flight path over the water where the wind, water, and other factors create hot spots that protect them from the blistering cold northern weather.
Those spots remain the same each year. So bird watchers often grab their binoculars and flock to them to catch a glimpse.
“Hawk watch sites are selected because of their notoriety and ease of viewing hawks as they migrate north in spring to their nesting grounds or in fall as they migrate south to wintering grounds,” Heather Good, executive director of Michigan Audubon, told MLive in 2021. “In the case of Mackinac Straits, for example, the convergence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron creates a funnel effect for migrants that are flying over the Straits of Mackinac.”
Those hot spots also help specialists study the birds in the changing world. When hawks begin their flights, hundreds of workers or volunteers with hawk watch organizations head out to help get counts.
Last year, officials set up five official watch zones, all of which offered different experiences.
“What we learn from this long-term monitoring data is invaluable to wildlife and land managers, scientists, legislators, and decision-makers. It is the information gleaned from a large network of participating sites that brings the data to light, Good added. “In other words, monitoring raptors can signal to us when there is a conservation intervention required for a species’ survival.”