Broad-winged Bonanza!

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant        September 19, 2009

It’s just a hawk.  It looks rather unremarkable and you’d probably not give it a long look like you’d accord a majestic Bald Eagle or Peregrine Falcon.

A Broad-winged Hawk displays its classic silhouette(and name-sake shape) in soaring flight.
A Broad-winged Hawk displays its classic silhouette(and name-sake shape) in soaring flight.

But this species of hawk, the Broad-winged, holds a special secret.  Each September,  these normally-solitary woodland hawks head southward on their migration to wintering grounds in South America.  Taking advantage of thermals(warm updrafts of air) created on sunny days, the hawks rise up in the sky in tight circles, soaring on their broad wings and then gliding slowly southward until they pick up another thermal. 

It’s kind of like riding a long series of elevators in the sky, to equate a human convenience to a hawk’s method of long-distance travel. 

A "kettle" of Broad-winged Hawks soaring above the Ashland Hawk Watch on September 19, 2009.
A "kettle" of Broad-winged Hawks soaring above the Ashland Hawk Watch on September 19, 2009. A total of 87 Broad-wingeds in this photo!
Now here’s the secret: these hawks ride mass transit!  These elevators in the sky can get really crowded, because these hawks are in a hurry to get down to South America as soon as they can. Wait too long into the fall, and their inefficient flapping will never get them to the Southern Hemisphere.  If you are a Broad-winged, soaring is where it’s at! 
Today we experienced an incredible flight of Broad-wingeds at the Ashland Hawk Watch.  “Kettles”, or large flocks, of Broad-wingeds rose up in feathered swarms, boiled over and streamed southward.
How many Broad-winged Hawks are in this group?  In binoculars, these still look like specks, so don't feel bad if you need to use a magnifying lens to look closely at this photo!
How many Broad-winged Hawks are in this photo? In binoculars, these still look like specks, so don't feel bad if you need to use a magnifying lens to look closely at this image! (There are 86 hawks pictured)
Groups of 80, 100, 130, 160, and even 200 hawks at a time flew together, and gave the appreciative hawk watchers below a show as they passed high overhead.  High-up specks that looked like pepper became salt when the birds banked and showed white bellies.

As each kettle was spotted, short statements like “That’s crazy!”, “Oh my Gosh”, and “They can’t all be hawks!” issued from the wide-open mouths of stunned observers.  Could there really be this many Broad-winged Hawks?  And how many could we not see that were too high or just over the next hill? 

Happy Hawk watchers at the end of a record-setting day!  Sahortly affter the photo was taken, another 165 Broad-wingeds came by in one group! (L to R: Derek Stoner, Bob Rufe, Jim Lewis, Kim Steininger, and Cyrus Moqtaderi)
Happy hawk watchers at the end of a record-setting day! Shortly after the photo was taken, another 165 Broad-wingeds came by in one group! (L to R: Derek Stoner, Bob Rufe, Jim Lewis, Kim Steininger, and Cyrus Moqtaderi)

At the end of the day, when the clock struck 5:30pm we called an end to the day of Broad-winged madness.  Sunburned eyes and dizzy heads could finally rest. 

The final count?   3,263 Broad-winged Hawks.  More than anyone at the hawk watch today had ever seen.  Or ever fathomed. 

Guess what?  Today, another hawk watch just 50 miles to the north tallied 7,525 Broad-wingeds!  Just when you think you’re doing well…

All photos by Derek Stoner

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