The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Migrating Hawks Still Moving through South Texas
Ro Wauer, October 12, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

The major thrust of the hawk migration has pretty well passed through the Central Gulf Coast area by now, but small numbers of species can still be seen. And raptors are still being tallied at two key "hawk-watch" sites along the Texas Gulf Coast. Reports from the Smith Point site near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, north of us, and at Hazel Bazemore County Park, to the south, reveal some fascinating numbers as of October 1. Smith Point hawk-watchers have since August 15, reported a grand total of 12,579 individuals of 17 species, and Hazel Bazemore hawk-watchers have tallied 690,387 individuals of 24 species.

Smith Point totals include 31 ospreys, 97 swallow-tailed kites, 6 white-tailed kites, 3,675 Mississippi kites, 51 northern harriers, 354 sharp-shinned hawks, 246 Cooper's hawks, 23 red-shouldered hawks, 7,766 broad-winged hawks, 51 Swainson's hawks, 10 red-tailed hawks, 5 white-tailed hawks, 1 bald eagle, 5 crested caracaras, 166 American kestrels, 43 merlins, and 39 peregrine falcons; additional numbers represent unidentified species.

Hazel Bazemore totals include 154 ospreys, 21 swallow-tailed kites, 9,735 Mississippi kites, 1 hook-billed kites, 34 northern harriers, 367 sharp-shinned hawks, 460 Cooper's hawks, 17 red-shouldered hawks, 678,204 broad-winged hawks, 281 Swainson's hawks, 92 red-tailed hawks, 2 ferriginous hawks, 3 white-tailed hawks, 6 zone-tailed hawks, 3 Harris's hawks, 1 bald eagle, 467 American kestrels, 48 merlins, 125 peregrine falcons, 11 prairie falcons, 1 aplomado falcon, and 15 crested caracaras.

The high number of broad-winged hawks for both sites, especially for Hazel Bazemore, is truly amazing. This hawk nests throughout the eastern half of the United States, and an estimated 95 percent of the population migrates southward along the Texas central Gulf Coast. The area is a like a huge hourglass with our area representing the constructed center. They overwinter in South America.

Broad-winged hawks are fairly small hawks, built very much like our common red-tailed hawk, but with a banded rather than an all reddish tail. On peak days in late September, up to 100,000 hawks, principally broad-wings, have been seen in a continuous flight that extends over 40 miles long.

One of the most spectacular parts of the hawk migration is watching numbers of broad-wings during the morning hours when they begin to leave their overnight roosts. Usually around 8:30am, they slowly begin to lift off, circling low and gradually ascending higher and higher, eventually to a point where they are out of sight. But the circling of hundreds or thousands of hawks is a sight to behold. The Hazel Bazemore site, because of its location on a hill overlooking a wooded riparian area utilized by roosting broad-wings, offers marvelous opportunities for just such experiences.

Hawk migration occurs in many parts of the world, and organized hawk-watches at a few key sites have provided some amazing statistics. The best known historic sites include Pennsylvania's Hawk Mountain and New Jersey's Cape May Point. But in recent years, Texas sites have produced even greater numbers, and a site in Veracruz, Mexico, has produced even higher numbers. But the single most productive North American site is Hazel Bazemore, where up to 100,000 individual hawks can pass over in a single day.
Hazel Bazemore hawk-watchers welcome visitors. Located west of Corpus Christi, the county park is located off SH 624, only a couple miles west of US 77 at Calallen. A great place to enjoy wildlife!


At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Dallas, Texas by White Rock Lake and on Friday, October 19th saw approximately 50-75 hawks coming in over my house from the north heading south. They were flying very low - gliding mostly. I've never seen that many hawks flying together. I thought they were solitary birds only flying with a mate. Now I know better! It was a sight to behold!.

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At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday afternoon we were in our front yard and saw this glorious bird circling from our neighbors huge oak tree to our back yard and rooftop area. What a site to see, elegant, huge wing span, never seen anything like it and I grew up near Smith Point Wildlife Refuge.........thanks to the wonderful internet I found what it was, the beautiful swallow tail kite hawk. I am sure I will never see another in my lifetime, but I sure appreciate the one time I did see one.

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