From now until the end of November, the Atlantic Flyway will be a busy place. Thousands of migratory birds will pass through this region on their way to warmer temperatures and better food sources. This region is between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, where air currents are favorable for flight. The mountains provide updrafts created by the wind bouncing off their surfaces. Because most hawks soar, they need the updrafts provided by temperature changes at the coastline, and will follow specific routes that have been traveled for hundreds of thousands of years to their winter homes.
The number of hawks seen usually corresponds with the weather that day. With a good wind, usually from the west, and no rain, more will be seen. On days that are rainy, or winds are too strong or too gentle, there will be very few in the air. Just like a jet liner, they want those days with a nice, strong tail wind! Because they need these conditions, they do not like to cross large bodies of water that have no updrafts. New Jersey is located in just the right spot where these hawks will gather before crossing narrow stretches of water.
One of the most popular areas for hawk watching is the Hawk Watch Platform in Cape May Point State Park. Another is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Brigantine. In Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary north of Reading has been hosting hawk watchers for many years. Here you will see the birds pass along the mountain ridges, riding the updrafts created there. Visit New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s website for a calendar showing which hawks are migrating at certain times in the fall.
Seeing hundreds of birds in the sky together is quite a spectacle! During this time, the species seen will be sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, red- tailed hawks, osprey, merlins, American kestrels, broad-winged hawks, goshawks, Peregrine falcons, northern harriers, bald eagles, vultures, and many other songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. The huge groups of birds, called “kettles”, circle around in the sky gaining altitude, resembling the swirling of water coming to a boil in a tea kettle. These large masses can actually be seen on radar. So, if you are looking for a wonderful day of bird watching, reserve a day this fall to watch this magnificent event repeat itself, as it has done year after year for thousands of years.