Category Archives: Hawk Count 2020

A day at the Hawk Watch, Mackinaw City

My husband Jim and I were able to visit the Hawk Watch on Sunday April 5 and want to give you an armchair experience.  The day was mostly sunny, 42 degrees, with a light westerly breeze – just enough that we finally wised up and moved our lawn chairs to the EAST side of our car.   We had parked about 30 yards past the other two cars there and waved and shouted hello to the data-gatherers.

Shortly after our late-morning arrival, a kettle of hawks formed overhead.  The birds seemed to appear out of nowhere and gather in a big spiral.  We managed to spot about three dozen of the 1,315 Red-tailed Hawks counted by Kevin Georg that day.  So far, he has tallied 11,304 of these birds!  A highlight for us that morning was a leucistic (near-albino) Red-tail.  At first I thought it was a gull, but a closer look revealed its identity.  Steve Baker took a nice snapshot of it. 

Steve also made up this diagram of the identifying characteristics of soaring Red-tails.  Look for the shape, particularly the bulging ‘muscular’ wings. The long primary feathers, those that sometimes spread apart and look like fingers, are longer in the middle area of the wing, creating a gentle outward curve.  Plus, watch for the patagial marks, a dark color on the front of the wing.

Today just west of Pellston we saw a Red-tailed Hawk hunting in the woods.  Watch your area for these and for other inspiring avian sights as the birds migrate and begin their nesting cycles.  Remember that it’s easy to click on the MSRW Data tab, which takes you right to the table where Kevin posts the daily numbers.  You will discover when the first Black Vulture of the season was seen and can check on your other favorite raptors.  Stay safe and healthy this month. (submitted by Kathy Bricker)   

Buteo Mania 2K20: Hawk Trapping update 2

Greetings once again fellow supporters and followers of MSRW. Since my last blog post there has been a lot going in terms of bird movement, birds being captured and spring migration in general. Where to begin… Well since I’m the raptor trapper for the spring, I guess it makes sense to focus on the trapping, and this just also happens to be my favorite!

   On our initial day as I mentioned before we were not fully operational and were still figuring things out in terms of the actual set-up itself. Now we are fully set-up and have had some great days trapping despite it being quite early in the spring and migration is yet to reach peak. On April 1st we had anticipated it to be a slow day due to weather and wind and overall, it was just not great. Despite the poor weather we did manage to capture one bird on the day this being a Red-shouldered hawk. Now this is exciting for two reasons; firstly, they are primarily reptile and rodent predators and are not usually as interested in what we had to offer, European starlings and Rock dove “pigeon.” But sometimes these birds will take a chance on different prey items if the opportunity presents itself. Little do they know that the lure birds are protected by leather vests.  It should be noted that only invasive species in North America are used to lure raptors. The second reason I wanted to mention why this was also super exciting is because this was the first Red-shouldered captured for MSRW! It was great to be part of history no matter how small the feat. Note the lighter color in the outer primaries. This appears as a translucent comma when you see Red-shouldered hawks soar overhead.  All ages and sexes show this pattern.  The red on the ‘shoulder’ of the bird is not always visible.

   We then trapped again on the 2nd of April and managed to capture 6 birds, 2 Sharp-shinned hawks and 4 Red-tailed hawks and it was a great day all around. That being said in the game of trapping it is always a good day when you at least catch one bird and do not get skunked. Coming into the 3rd we expected a good day as the winds seemed favorable and our optimism was high. To start we captured an adult female Rough-legged hawk early in the morning. Once again, an uncommon catch as they prefer a more rodent based diet. These birds are also stunning and each one shows so much individual variation they are truly breathtaking and by far my favorite hawk species. It is also always a treat to get to see one in hand! After that the day was slow and I assumed all our good karma had been used up on that early “gourmet” bird. Then in the late afternoon things picked up again and we captured 8 adult red-tails in the span of a few hours.

   We will not be trapping on April 4th due to the rainy weather as that is the forecast. However, we hope to be back out there on the 5th and are hoping that the only rain we get will be in the form of raptors falling from the sky and subsequently being captured! Until Next time as always stay classy.

Nick Alioto

Spring 2020 Raptor Trapping Totals:

5   SSHA (Sharp-shinned Hawk)

15 RTHA (Red-Tailed Hawk)

1   RSHA (Red-shouldered Hawk)

1   RLHA (Rough-Legged Hawk)

Total Birds: 22

Raptor Trapping 2020: Kicking the Season Off!

   As the snow begins to melt and the ice breaks up over the straits, we now hear Red-wings and Robins singing daily, signaling that spring is here! This means that many birds are starting their journey north to return to their breeding grounds for the summer. We here at MSRW are excited about documenting the ongoing raptor migration in a new way this spring.

   As some of you may remember in past seasons, we had mentioned capturing diurnal raptors on occasion. Usually it was when we owl banders thought we had enough energy to stay up even longer during the day than normal. We would then set up a trapping rig and attempt to catch whatever diurnal raptors may be flying over, usually with pretty good success.

   After leaving Michigan last spring I accepted a job with Intermountain Bird Observatory in Boise, Idaho. Now this is one of the premiere raptor trapping spots in the country and I was fortunate enough to be trained and eventually became one of their lead trappers at their primary trapping site. After that job had finished, I knew that I needed to use what I had learned and bring it here to MSRW and combine that with all the knowledge Ed Pike, the chair of MSRW has and bring to fruition a full-time spring trapping station here! We both knew of the potential due to how spectacular the spring migration is in these parts and from how well we had done trapping in previous years.  Well we have done it! We have designed a whole station set-up to catch raptors. This will occur from April through to May. We got a head start and set-up partially on March 27th and hopefully everything will be up by Monday March 30th weather permitting. With only two mist nets, the 27th was a very successful first day with 3 adult Sharp-shinned hawks and 2 adult red-tailed hawks being captured. We hope you stay tuned to future blog posts as migration heats up and things get better and better. Until next time, stay classy folks


Nick Alioto

Spring 2020 Raptor Trapping Totals:

3 – SSHA (Sharp-shinned Hawk)

2- RTHA (Red-Tailed Hawk)

Total Birds: 5

First big day at the Hawk Watch, Friday, March 27

Friday morning started out foggy with light easterly winds. Around 11 am the fog started to break up with some sun peaking out. Some Red-tails and Red-shouldereds started showing up, but the fog remained over the straits, not allowing them to cross. After 12 pm the fog lifted more, with easterly winds, although it remained foggy over the straits. The fog slowly settled down over the straits and the raptors started flying over the fog bank. The flight ended around 4 pm with the raptors settling down in the trees waiting for the next day of good weather to cross.

Totals for the day were: 13 Turkey Vultures, 11 Bald Eagles, 5 N. Harrier, 4 Sharp shinned, 1 N. Goshawk, 22 Red-shouldered, 453 Red-tailed, 55 Rough-legged, 10 Golden Eagles, and 1 Merlin; giving a total of 575 migrants. A great day at the Hawk Watch.

Great day at the Hawk Watch

Today with winds finally out of the northwest at 10 to 15 mph we thought it would be a good day for Golden Eagles. It was cold with the northwest to west winds; the skies cleared shortly after 11 am and temps were in the high 20’s F. Shortly after noon some Goldens started moving toward the straits, mostly 1 or 2 at a time. Between 2:30 and 3:30 there was a push of Golden Eagles, at one time there were 5 Goldens in view at once; with a total for the hour period of 30.

For the day the totals were 6 Bald Eagles, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Rough-legged Hawk (dark morph), and 38 Golden Eagles. Made for a great day of hawk watching. Four visitors stopped by in the afternoon and all saw Golden Eagles.

Spring 2020 Hawk Watch begins

Spring 2020 Hawk Watch begins

March 5, the first day of the count held heavy cloud cover and scattered snow showers with no Raptors in sight.

March 6 started out cloudy and became clear by noon. Winds were moderate out of the north; a day for strong flyers. A couple of Bald Eagles headed north and Golden Eagles trickled through. A total of 7 Golden Eagles passed overhead by 4 pm. All the Eagles were rather high and heading directly into the wind.

A good start to the Hawk Watch.