Birds know it's Hawk Weekend, turning out by the thousands
True to form, birds abounded at this year's Hawk Weekend celebration. The peak activity for birds of prey migrating through the area typically occurs between Sept. 10 and 25, said Debbie Waters, education director for Duluth's Hawk Ridge Bird Obs...
True to form, birds abounded at this year's Hawk Weekend celebration.
The peak activity for birds of prey migrating through the area typically occurs between Sept. 10 and 25, said Debbie
Waters, education director for Duluth's Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. And this weekend didn't disappoint, delivering more than 6,000 feathered visitors Saturday and at least another 4,300 Sunday.
The most pervasive bird this weekend was the broad-winged hawk, followed closely by its cousin, the sharp-shinned hawk.
"Right now we're seeing more deep-forest and local birds," said Erik Bruhnke, an interpretive coordinator at Hawk Ridge. "Later on, we'll start seeing more birds from the Arctic, such as the rough-legged hawks and the golden eagles."
As for conditions this weekend, Bruhnke said: "We couldn't have asked for better weather, with the northwest wind and lots of sun."
The warming rays of the sun produced strong thermal updrafts that birds rode high into the sky, soaring in circles in a dance that birders call "kettling."
Waters said identifying some of the high-flying birds requires skill. Spotters often recognize birds by the outlines of their bodies and their movement in flight.
"We call it speckville. Some of these birds are up so high, you can hardly see them with a spotting scope," she said.
In addition to counting birds passing through the area, crews also captured many with nets and affixed identification bands to their legs.
An already banded peregrine falcon showed up in one of the nets. Its journey could be traced back to the Canadian Yukons, and Waters said many of the birds that pass over Hawk Ridge fly clear to the Gulf of Mexico.
Visitors were given the opportunity to adopt and release one of these banded birds for a $20 fee. In all, 78 birds were adopted and released this weekend.
Megan and Adam Daniluk, a pair of 9-year-old twins from Duluth, were among those who did the honors -- each sending a sharp-shinned hawk skyward Sunday afternoon.
"It was kind of soft, and I could feel its heart beating," Megan said after the release.
"Daddy is the real bird nut in our family," Adam said, observing nevertheless that the experience of releasing a hawk was "pretty cool."
Steve Daniluk, Megan and Adam's father, sprung to have his children "chuck a bird" this year, because he thought it might help turn them on to Hawk Ridge. He's been coming to watch migrating birds at the ridge for five years.
"I get a lot of joy from it, and I wanted to share that joy with my kids," Daniluk said. "Somehow just telling them about this doesn't work. They need to experience it to really appreciate it."
Bruhnke said Hawk Weekend is the largest fundraising event of the year for the independent nonprofit that runs the observatory.
The shoestring operation runs on an annual budget of less than $200,000, making every bird adoption and Hawk Ridge T-shirt sale important, Waters said.
This is the 39th year that there has been a methodical count of birds passing over Hawk Ridge. The survey begins in September and ends in November.
The data helps tell a story over time, Waters said.
"We're starting to see some patterns." she added.
Waters noted that when the first official bird count occurred in 1972, the bald eagle population had been decimated by DDT. Since the pesticide was banned, however, a tremendous rebound in population has occurred.
"We can see more in a good day now than we did in the entire 1972 season," she said.