The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Raptor Migration Can Be Spectacular in South Texas
by Ro Wauer

As the mobs of hummingbirds passing through South Texas begin to subside, another group of migrants, the much larger raptors - the hawks, kites, eagles, and falcons - can be expected. Raptor numbers should peak in late September, and on select days up to 100,000 hawks in continuous flights of over 40 miles long are possible in South Texas. That is something to see!

It is estimated that 95% of North America's broad-winged hawk population migrates southward along the Texas central Gulf Coast. Moderate numbers of Swainson's, red-tailed, Cooper's, and sharp-shinned hawks, Mississippi kites, American kestrels, peregrine falcons, and smaller populations of ferruginous, Harris's, red-shouldered, and zone-tailed hawks, bald and golden eagles, merlins, and white-tailed and swallow-tailed kites move through our area as well. Mississippi kites have already been evident over the treetops in area towns, and I also have had a report of a hundred or more individuals over Schroeder.

But the most outstanding spectacle of the raptor migration is a circling flock of broad-winged hawks, especially when several hundred of these hawks begin to leave a preferred overnight roosting site at one time, usually about 8:30 A.M., and slowly ascend by circling to a point where they are out of sight.

The broad-winged hawk is a fairly small hawk, built very much like our common red-tailed hawk but with a banded rather than an all reddish tail. It is a common nester throughout the eastern deciduous forests of North America. And like many of our raptors, it is a neotropical migrants that goes south for the winter. Broad-wings spend their winter months from southern Mexico south to Peru and Brazil.

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. The single most productive one is Hazel Bazemore County Park near Corpus Christi, where over one million hawks are known to cross over each year from mid-September to mid-October. Hawk watchers at Hazel Bazemore, a geographical chokepoint, have recorded up to 100,000 individual hawks in a single day. Hazel Bazemore County Park is located west of I-77, on SH 624, just beyond Calallen. Participants and onlookers are welcome.

Other organized Texas hawk watches occur at Smith’s Point near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge; Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park (best in spring); Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge; Padre Island, especially good for peregrines; Dangerfield State Park near Longview; and Devil’s Backbone near Wimberley. But all-time high counts have been recorded farther in Veracruz, Mexico. A grand total of 5,077,152 raptors were tallied in 1999.

Hawk watching can be a most exciting outdoor activity, and one in which anyone, birder or not, can participate.

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