Aug. 25, 2014. Hundreds or even thousands of raptors will soar over Grandfather Mountain in September as the Birds of Prey make their annual southward migrations.
Throughout the month, visitors can join trained staff and volunteers at Linville Peak as Grandfather Mountain participates in the official Hawk Watch for the third consecutive year.
Each day, trained counters will record the number and type of raptors that pass above the mountain — including bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcones, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, merlins and vultures.
Grandfather Mountain guests can watch the official counters at work and talk with volunteers about the process, or they can purchase illustrated bird guides from the Top Shop and conduct their own unofficial counts.
Perhaps the most astounding display is the broad-winged hawk, which migrates in groups of hundreds or thousands called kettles. Those sightings are most common around the second to third week of September.
“The broad-wings are the real show,” said Jesse Pope, director of education and natural resources for Grandfather Mountain. “It’s like a tornado of hawks.”
Each fall, thousands of raptors migrate from Canada and the eastern seaboard along the Appalachian Mountains to Central and South America. The birds use thermal air columns to gain lift and glide above the peaks toward their warmer destinations.
Grandfather Mountain is an excellent spot for viewing because it sits along the eastern escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains and its rocky peaks generate strong thermals and allow prime visibility.
The Mountain is one of more than 275 Hawk Watch sites officially designated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America. North Carolina has seven other active sites.
In fall 2013, staff and volunteers counted 3,075 raptors in 174 hours of observation at Grandfather Mountain. The vast majority were broad-winged hawks, but they also spotted more than 30 of each of Cooper’s Hawks, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures.
Aside from offering a visual spectacle, the Hawk Watch serves an important purpose. The annual counts from Grandfather Mountain and other locations help track hawk populations and migration routes over time and provide important data to inform land management decisions.
Counts will be conducted every day that weather permits – the hawks don’t typically fly in fog or storms — and will be posted daily at HawkCount.org.
Experienced hawk spotters can contact Jesse Pope at [email protected] or 828-733-2013 to volunteer with the Hawk Watch. A training session will be held Aug. 27.
The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call 800-468-7325 or visit www.Grandfather.com to plan a trip.