Category Archives: Raptor Fest

Raptor Fest 2020 is CANCELED

With heavy hearts, we have canceled this year’s Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 3 to 5. With the growing risk of contracting Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) and the closure of Mackinaw City School, there is no choice. 

While you are likely as disappointed as us, you’ll agree that it’s vital to keep everyone safe and healthy.  That means being sure that none of us unknowingly gets exposed to COVID-19 and carries it home to families, friends, and communities.

Next week, all paid registrants will get a full refund of the registration fee, with no penalties.  If you paid by check, your refund will come by U.S. mail. 

If you gave extra to assist the research and the education work of MSRW, please let us know at if you would like this refunded as well.  Your gifts for the Student Scholarship and Education Fund will carry forward, but likewise – let us know if you want a refund. 

Since MSRW has already invested money in the Fest as well as hundreds of hours of volunteer time, your donations would help at this time, at

In good news, we are exploring the possibility of re-scheduling the Fest this fall to enjoy the hawk and owl south-bound migration.  If so, we’d love for you to attend then or in 2021.

Please cancel any hotel reservations you made on your own.  OR come up then or another time to enjoy the hawk watch.  Already, 52 Golden Eagles have been recorded by counter Kevin Georg. The birds are moving and you’ll find plenty of “social distance” at the site behind the Recreation Complex in Mackinaw City.  You can marvel as spectacular kettles form almost at head level, rise up, and then dissipate high overhead as the birds peel off to soar across the Straits.  Besides directly experiencing this unique natural history experience, you can learn more about these birds, where they’ve been and where they are going, from newly-hired Raptor Naturalist Abigail Fischer.

Thank you for understanding the situation and for your interest in raptors.  If you can devote a few hours of volunteer time either on the Fest or other MSRW committees, please email so we can match your interests with MSRW’s needs.

Press Release, Registration Open for Raptor Fest, January 2018

Registration Open for Mackinaw Raptor Fest

The nonprofit group Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch has opened registration for the popular Mackinaw Raptor Fest. Held April 6th-8th in Mackinaw City, this weekend of activities promotes public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds in the Straits region. The Fest attracts 150 to 200 people to the Straits of Mackinac to experience its unique bird migration.
Available events include opportunities to view hawks, owls, and waterbirds with qualified interpreters, a meet-and-greet reception, classroom-style presentations by regional experts, a live raptor program, a hawk identification film, birding field trips, and a banquet catered by Audie’s of Mackinaw City.

According to Fest Chair Kathy Bricker, “This year for the first time we will focus on owls. We offer different programs each Fest so people can return every year and learn new things.” Bricker said wildlife artist and falconer Glen McCune will share one of his live hawks in a special session before the Fest banquet on Saturday. Local residents may purchase a standalone ticket for this evening. “Seeing these birds in person amazes even people who are not bird watchers,” says Bricker.

The 2018 Raptor Fest keynote speaker is Gene Jacobs, owner of Raptor Services consulting firm and Director of Linwood Springs Research Station in Wisconsin. Jacobs will present Snowy Owl Winter Habitat Use based on his research using solar-powered transmitters that record owl locations. During break-out sessions, Jacobs will describe his studies on Merlins and Red-Shouldered Hawks and reveal information gained over years of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls.

In the morning plenary session of April 7th, Josh Haas, of Hawks on the Wing, will present a video to teach raptor identification. Haas will offer optional sessions on Bird Photography for Beginners and the Special Challenges of Photographing Hawks on the Wing. Other break-out sessions feature excellent speakers on Boreal Owls, the science and magic of migration, waterbird migration over Lake Superior, and American Kestrels.

On the evenings of April 6th and 7th, Owl Banding and Constellation Discovery will take place at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City. Registrants will have a chance to
see migrating owls being caught, examined, and released from banding nets, as well as to learn
about the spring constellations.

On Sunday April 8th, Steve Baker and Leonard Graf will take people to observe a courtship lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse. This field trip will allow attendees to witness the courtship ritual of these grouse, including dancing and calls. Leader Darrell Lawson offers a late winter birding in the Upper Peninsula with possible sightings of Snowy Owls, Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, and other winter migrants and residents throughout Mackinac County.

Raptor Fest 2018 includes free hawk count viewing daily for both registrants and the general
public from 10 am to 4 pm. At the 2017 Raptor Fest, 1,366 raptors of 12 different species were
observed, including 1,104 Red-tailed Hawks, 24 Bald Eagles, 15 Rough-legged Hawks and 165
Turkey Vultures. The free waterbird count is open from sunrise to 2 pm.

The full conference with Friday night reception, banquet and live raptor show costs $65. There
are partial conference options available including: Friday night reception and conference only,
for $30; or Live Raptor Show and Banquet only, for $40. Field trips cost $15. Limited
scholarship funds are available for interested students.

Bricker adds, “To meet local demand for the popular experience with owls at Headlands, MSRW
has added the nights of April 13th and 14th. Registration is required for this extra event, since
space is limited.”

Registration for both the extra owl weekend and the April 6 to 8 Mackinaw Raptor Fest is open
now. To register or learn more, visit

The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies of hawks, owls, and waterbirds
migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educates the public about them, and aids in conserving and protecting the resting and feeding stop-over habitat for birds of prey in the
Straits of Mackinac region. To learn more, visit the MSRW Facebook, Instagram pages
or for blogs, event dates, and support options.

Press Release, Raptor Fest, January 2017

Raptor Fest Registration Open!

Registration just opened for the second Mackinaw Raptor Fest, according to Kathy Bricker, Secretary of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch.  She welcomes people to come learn more about birds and their twice-a-year migration at this event April 7 to 9 at the Mackinaw City Public School.

The Mackinaw Raptor Fest provides an entertaining and educational showcase to promote public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds and the significance of Mackinaw City and the Straits of Mackinac during migration.  It promotes positive public attitudes towards raptors and waterbirds and their importance to the environment.  It aims to become an internationally renowned annual festival that will generate ongoing ecotourism revenue for the Mackinaw City/Cheboygan/Petoskey/Harbor Springs area, new sponsorship for research on raptors and waterbirds, and net proceeds to further that research.

“Last year,” Bricker explains, “many more people wanted to attend than we could accommodate.  So we have moved the banquet and keynote speech to a larger venue.”  Bricker believes the Fest may draw up to 180 people from around Michigan and nearby states.  Already, 60 volunteers have offered to help with advance preparations, sign-in, site set-up, food service, outdoor guidance to birders and photographers, and other needs.

 The keynote banquet speaker on Saturday April 8 will be researcher Mark Martell.  From Duluth, Minnesota, Martell will regale people with stories about Golden Eagles, close relatives of the more widely-known Bald Eagle.   In 2015 Martell, the foremost researcher of eastern Golden Eagles, praised MSRW for recording more Golden Eagles than any other hawk count site east of the Mississippi River.  MSRW counted 374 in 2015 and 349 in 2016.

Daytime plenary sessions at the Mackinaw Raptor Fest will teach people how to identify hawks in flight, with instructional film excerpts, and will introduce participants in person to live birds of prey.  Break-out session topics include Raptor Migration in the Midwest, Peregrine Falcons in Michigan, Use of Hawk Migration Data, Bird Photography, Owl Migration in the Straits, Loon Research, and the documentary film Uncommon Loon by Jeff Lange of Petoskey.

“April 7 to 9 promises to combine the fun of birding and learning about birds with camaraderie and great food.”  Bricker invites people to learn more and register at

“It gets even better,” Bricker adds. “Besides the Mackinaw Raptor Fest, MSRW will improve other outreach about hawks and owls in 2017, thanks to the generosity of the Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.  The PHSACF has pledged $7,000 for special programming and publicity to build on the enthusiastic public reaction to our avian resources.  Birds comprise the feathered component of the natural inheritance under our generation’s care, and are every bit as vulnerable as they look.  Their future depends directly on our appreciation and actions.”

In 2016, MSRW recorded over 1,500 guest visits to the hawk, owl, and waterbird research sites, while several hundred more people attended programs and field trips.  Support from PHSACF will help ensure that such people, including youth, come away with a greater awareness and understanding of birds.  The Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau also gave generously toward the 2017 educational work of MSRW, recognizing the potential of birds to attract visitors to northern lower Michigan.  Additional Fest Sponsors are joining in 2017.

MSRW Chair Ed Pike, sums up: “Since MSRW was created in 2014, we have proven that the Straits of Mackinac ranks among the top migration funnels in the country for birds of prey.  It’s vital to continue this research to monitor changes over time.  We also have tapped into the fastest-growing pastime in the U.S.: birdwatching.  Bird research, education, and conservation dovetail perfectly, because people must experience and understand natural resources in order to value and protect them.”  To directly support the research or education work, MSRW accepts tax-deductible donations via the website or by check.

Registration is now open for the Mackinaw Raptor Fest, April 7 to 9, held at the Mackinaw City Public School.  This entertaining and educational showcase promotes public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds and the significance of Mackinaw City and the Straits of Mackinac during migration.

The keynote speaker is researcher Mark Martell from Duluth, Minnesota.  Martell, the foremost researcher of eastern Golden Eagles, will discuss that species and his radio-telemetry work.

Plenary sessions are identification of hawks in flight using film, and live birds of prey.

Break-out session topics include Raptor Migration in the Midwest, Peregrine Falcons in Michigan, Use of Hawk Migration Data, Bird Photography, Owl Migration in the Straits by Ed Pike, Loon Research, and the documentary film Uncommon Loon by Jeff Lange of Petoskey.

Register at  Hope you can come!

MSRW Takes Flight and Plans Next Phase

Earlier this month, we announced plans for new research starting in Mackinaw City and released our final spring 2016 report. Besides core work with hawks and owls in the last three years, we have added a survey of waterbirds migrating through the Straits of Mackinac. This will run from August 20 through November 10. In addition, owl research will be conducted from September 20 through November 10 near St. Ignace.

Chair, Ed Pike, said “We welcome the public to come and see loons, grebes, ducks, and other waterbirds in migration. The observation site is McGulpin Point, two miles west of Mackinaw City near the McGulpin Point Lighthouse. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope if possible, as some of the birds fly at quite a distance.” During the first spring survey of waterbirds this year, paid counter Jason Newton tallied more than 10,000 waterbirds of 38 species, including two species of Loons and three species each of Scoters, Mergansers, and Grebes. He confirmed that both Redheads and Long-tailed Ducks stay for long periods of time in the Straits, apparently resting and feeding there. Newton’s highlight was a Black-legged Kittiwake spied at close range on April 12. Pike explained that gathering accurate base-line data on the use of the Straits by waterbirds is vital to understanding the biological importance of the area. “This was significant as the first spring count, especially since it tallied 570 Common Loons, a bird of concern to conservationists due to its generally declining numbers in Michigan.

Pike continued, “Our sixth spring Hawk Count in Mackinaw City also was successful, with a total of 47,090 daytime raptors of 18 species. This is roughly the same number as last spring. The highlight came April 13 when we set a record among dozens of other hawk counts in the country. Professional counter, Kevin Georg, tallied 4,966 Red-tailed Hawks that day, following a stretch of wintry weather that held up migration.” Site records include Turkey and Black Vultures, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, and the first-ever Gyrfalcon. The Straits continues to hold the record for the most Golden Eagles seen east of the Mississippi.

Other important research findings came from the owl survey done at Cheboygan State Park where professional banders caught 76 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 6 Long-eared Owls. Five of the saw-whets already wore bands, placed on them by biologists at Whitefish Point; St. Ignace (banded by MSRW fall 2015); Silver Islet (Ontario), Indiana, and Cheboygan State Park (which Pike banded years ago). Pike is proud of this bird: “I banded this female in spring 2011. We now know that she has lived at least 6 years and is using the same migration route. We hope to see her again, as they can live about 9 years.”

More guests visited MSRW events than ever before. After Secretary, Kathy Bricker, entered the guest list data, she found 1,326 recorded outdoor guests from five countries, 13 states, and 139 Michigan cities. Eleven indoor talks by volunteers were attended by another 333 guests. Bricker added “The first Mackinaw Raptor Fest, funded largely by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, drew 81 fully-paid registrants. We were thrilled that 281 others enjoyed free portions of the weekend, including a program with live hawks and owls.” People may see photos, learn early plans for the April 7 to 9, 2017 Mackinaw Raptor Fest, and watch the fall research results come in at

Rebecca Lessard holding a Peregrine Falcon rehabilitated by Wings of Wonder.

Rebecca Lessard holding a Peregrine Falcon rehabilitated by Wings of Wonder.

Elder, Tony Grondin, honors eagles at first Mackinaw Raptor Fest in Mackinaw City

Elder, Tony Grondin, honors eagles at first Mackinaw Raptor Fest in Mackinaw City

Record number of Golden Eagles seen at Mackinaw City Hawk Count. Image by Steve Baker.

Record number of Golden Eagles seen at Mackinaw City Hawk Count. Image by Steve Baker.

Guests enjoy watching hawks in Mackinaw City with hawk counter, Kevin Georg.

Guests enjoy watching hawks in Mackinaw City with hawk counter, Kevin Georg.

Water bird counter, Jason Newton, recording data on the water birds seen migrating through the Straits of Mackinac.

Water bird counter, Jason Newton, recording data on the water birds seen migrating through the Straits of Mackinac.



Raptor Fest

I unfortunately don’t have any owl news to report. String winds and snow have been preventing us from banding.

I would just like to say that I had a great time getting to know so many interesting people at Raptor Fest this weekend. Thank you to everyone for showing us your support!

We will get back to banding owls as soon as possible.


Press Release, Mackinaw Fest Award, April 2016

Emmet County awarded for ‘unflagging support’ in helping in Mackinaw Raptor Fest, public raptor migration count take flight.

At the Mackinaw Raptor Fest closing ceremony April 2, Emmet County was awarded the first-ever Wind Under Wings Award, in recognition of the assistance by numerous county staff who helped launch the inaugural event, and for supporting a public raptor migration watch in Mackinaw City.

In front of 110 people, Gary Appold, Assistant County Administrator and Human Resources Director, accepted the award of a framed adult bald eagle from Ed Pike, chair of the non-profit group, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch.  The photograph was donated by professional photographer, Lynn Walters-Fraze of J-A-M Productions International, Alanson.

“When I first broached the idea of a hawk watch in the Straits area in 2004, people were daunted by the amount of work and funding that it would entail,” said Pike. “Thanks to help from many colleagues and the proof from three years of preliminary counts that this is a vital hawk migration corridor, we launched the full research and public outreach work in 2014. This weekend, birders came to Emmet and Cheboygan Counties from throughout Michigan as well as Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Along with contributors of funds, topping the list that made it possible is the unflagging support and encouragement of Emmet County, which has been there at every turn.”

That support from the county began back in 2010 with owl research demonstrations at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, combined with an educational night sky experience.  In July of 2013 when Pike and others began meeting about a new public festival during the spring shoulder season, Emmet County sent representatives who provided “wise guidance and advice,” Pike noted.

“Emmet County and its commissioners exemplify what it means to be forward-thinking and community-caring. Through our formative years and even after MSRW started, Emmet County has helped in so many ways behind the scenes, it’s hard to enumerate them.

From owls, Emmet County’s help spread to hawks.  “The professionalism of their staff and encouragement of their commissioners has figuratively given us wings. Emmet County has helped with housing and computer service for some of the biologists. They have assisted with audiovisual equipment setup, publication design, media outreach, and publicity on their website. I am delighted to present them with the first Wind Under Wings Award.”

Emmet County’s Appold said the county is pleased to partner with such an important group as the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and to support their work in raising awareness about protecting sensitive regional environments and habitats.

“It’s vital to Emmet County’s future to understand the environmental assets in our region. The raptor count has been an amazing example of educating the public about what an important area this is for birds of prey on an international level,” Appold said. “As a secondary benefit, Emmet County receives exposure about our unique amenities and experiences and we attract tens of thousands of visitors to our communities and parks, in turn supporting our economy and encouraging families and individuals to relocate here and invest in our area. We will continue to support excellent efforts such as the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and we’re glad we could help MSRW launch a very successful first year festival.”

Press Release, Raptor Fest, March 2016

Live Raptor Viewing in Northern Lower Michigan

With migration of hawks and owls well underway, high public interest in those birds has prompted the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch to sponsor an indoor program featuring live raptors.  Wings of Wonder, headed by educator and wildlife rehabilitator Rebecca Lessard, welcomes families to a free hour-long showing of birds that cannot be released into the wild due to injuries.  The event takes place on Saturday, April 2 at 10:30 am at Camp Daggett on Walloon Lake near Petoskey.  There is no charge and no need to pre-register.

Rebecca Lessard says, “Since 1990, we have fostered appreciation, understanding, honor, and respect for raptors and the important role these birds play in keeping the ecosystem healthy.  We present more than 150 educational programs that reach over 10,000 people a year.  I am delighted to bring some of these birds to Petoskey and Mackinaw City for MSRW.”  Wings of Wonder is licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick, and orphaned raptors.  The primary goal is to release healthy and fully conditioned raptors back into the wild.

Along with the free show of live birds in Petoskey, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is holding the Mackinaw Raptor Fest in Mackinaw City that weekend.  Says Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, “With all 80 paid-registration spots taken and the speakers and other volunteers, we expect 100 people in the Mackinaw City and Petoskey area this weekend, all for the purpose of seeing and learning about birds of prey.”  Both events were funded in large part by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation and the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.

MSRW, based in Petoskey, surveys raptors that fly through the bottleneck of the Straits between their wintering grounds and nesting sites.  Hawks are counted from an open field near the Recreation Center in Mackinaw City.  Chair and long-time owl researcher Ed Pike explains, “The biggest attraction, that visitors can see easily and for free, is the day-time migration of eagles and hawks.  Our contracted counter, Kevin Georg, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, returned in early March for his third year of working for MSRW.  So far, he has tallied 344 bald eagles, 251 golden eagles, and 773 red-tailed hawks.  In addition, a few days ago, Georg scored a first observation for the site – a gyrfalcon.  One never knows what will appear.  Whether common or rare, it’s always interesting to watch and learn about these long-distance travelers who connect the hemispheres.”

To put the numbers in perspective, more golden eagles are seen at the Straits than any other hawk watch site east of the Mississippi and more red-tailed hawks are counted here than any other spring hawk watch in the country.  More than 250 hawk watches are active in North America, with all data posted daily on-line.  MSRW data, a blog, photographs, and field trip information can be viewed at

In addition to studying daytime raptors, Pike explains, “We also are well underway with owl research, conducted near Cheboygan State Park.  Many species of owls migrate, but they must be studied in a different way.  We hired biologists Emily Wilmoth from Greendale, Wisconsin and Kim Edgington from Port Angeles, Washington.  They work all night long to capture and band the birds with fine nets.  Already, two ‘foreign re-traps’ have been found, meaning owls that were banded earlier in another place.  At least one of these was banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory last spring.  Through many decades of banding and releasing owls, researchers are learning that northern saw-whet owls move widely throughout the Great Lakes region, with a few that fly all the way to New England.”

People can experience the owl research through opportunities occasionally offered jointly with Headlands Dark Sky Park, Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, and Straits Area Audubon Society.

“Expanding this spring’s research program,” Pike continues, “this winter we raised enough money to hire a biologist to conduct the first full spring waterbird survey.  Jason Newton from Aurora, Illinois works eight hours a day from Mackinaw City.  In just a few days, he already has counted thousands of long-tailed ducks, along with more than a hundred white-winged scoters and red-breasted mergansers.

MSRW welcomes the public to observe its work and enjoy the birds.