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Hawk Migration
















Each fall millions of hawks migrate from their summer breeding grounds to winter locations. These mass movements can traverse continents or move only short distances to ideal winter prey areas. A Swainson’s Hawk can migrate from the Canadian prairies to the Argentine pampas, whereas, a Red-tailed Hawk may only move across the state to an ideal vole area. These movements have captured the curiosity of raptor enthusiasts for decades.


Two artifacts of these movements are the use of thermals and wind by the raptors, and their reluctance to cross large bodies of water.  Thus, observers over the years have located places where topography contains the right conditions for these birds to concentrate.  Annual pilgrimages to these concentration spots are essential to the psychological well-being of many ardent enthusiasts.


Wisconsin does not have internationally well-known hotspots such as Hawk Ridge near Duluth or Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain, but significant concentrations do occur in the state.  Three places in the state have landforms that help concentrate hawks in their migration. Naturalists can use these features and time the visit with favorable northwest winds for the best hawk observation. In addition, the naturalist needs to be aware that species migrate at different times.


Mid-September is best for Broad-winged Hawk, late September and early October for Sharp-shined Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and Osprey. Mid-October is great for Merlin, Cooper’s Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk. Late in October is best for Red-tailed Hawk. Eagles (both Bald and Golden), Goshawk and Rough-legged Hawk are November migrants that normally winter in the state.


Concentration spots:

  • The west end of Lake Superior. Watch for high flying raptors over the city, especially over the Municipal Forest on the west edge of town.

  • Bluffs along the Mississippi River. Publicly accessible locations include Freedom Park in Prescott, Buena Vista Park at Alma, Grandad Bluff near LaCrosse, and Wyalusing State Park.

  • Along the coast of Lake Michigan. Publicly accessible locations include Woodland Dunes Nature Center near Two Rivers, Fischer Creek Recreation Area near Cleveland, Harrington Beach State Park, Forest Beach Migratory Preserve near Lake Church, Virmond Park in Mequon, and Wind Point in Racine.

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