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Big Birds (Raptors!) Migrating Over NYC: Broad-winged Hawks, Eagles and Falcons

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Broad-winged Hawk - first (hatch) year bird

19 September 2018 Bird Notes: we are entering the peak time for diversity of species (warblers, vireos, sparrows, raptors and more) in our area. The weather is forecast to be great for the weekend - see you in Central Park. And look up while wandering the streets of Manhattan: Broad-winged Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and others are common migrants overhead when winds are FROM the northwest. Our bird photos come from Doug Leffler and rdc. Deborah Allen is still away in Washington state with her mom who is very ill. In this week's historical notes we present only two articles - (1) the greatest day (ever) watching migrating raptors in NYC that occurred on 17 September 1990 after a couple of days of rain. That day, more than 15,000 Broad-winged Hawks passed over Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. For comparison, we provide (2) an excerpt from an 1895 article describing the first great flights of migrating raptors as seen from New Haven Connecticut - where one of the great North American raptor counts still takes place daily at Lighthouse Point (New Haven) along the Long Island Sound. Note also the mention of large numbers of migrating Red-headed Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers on that day, 18 September 1886.

Bald Eagle: a fairly common migrant over Manhattan from mid-Aug through mid-Nov when winds are from the northwest

Good! Here are the bird walks for late September - each $10***

1. Friday, 21 September - 9:00am (ONLY!) - Conservatory Garden at 105th st. and 5th Ave. 2. Saturday, 22 Sept. - 7:30/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant (74th st and the East Dr.) 3. Sunday, 23 September - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park. 4. Monday, 24 Sept. - 8:00/9:00am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) 72nd and CPW.


Any questions/concerns send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262 (home) ***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/ get two for the price of one. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:


The fine print: On Saturdays and Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!. Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= On Mondays we meet at 8am and again at 9am at Strawberry Fields (the benches near the "Imagine" Mosaic. Enter the park at 72nd street and Central Park West and walk about 1 minute due east on the main, paved path and find the Mosaic - we are sitting nearby. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden located at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Enter through the main gates and walk down the steps - head straight ahead along the long, grassy area - we meet by the giant water spout between the men's room and the women's room. Check this web site if in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not. Info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before ONLY if the walk is cancelled. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk! We end all our weekend and Monday Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

Golden Eagle: a rare migrant over Manhattan and the Bronx from mid-Oct through mid-Nov when winds are from the northwest >15mph.

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights).

Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Friday, 14 September (Conservatory Garden at 105th St. and 5th Avenue at 9am) - this Aug-Sept when we "get" cold fronts (the leading edge of high pressure approaching from the upper midwest/southern Canada), the systems are moving through quickly so we only have a few hours of winds from the northwest. Such winds from the NW are really good for pushing migrating birds to the east side of the Hudson River, with many landing in NYC Parks. Last year at this time we had 15+ warbler species per day simply because we had cold fronts with extended periods of (12+ hrs...and overnite especially) winds from the northwest. This year when high pressure systems have pushed through our area, the winds have shifted to northeast - and most of the migration gets "pushed" to our west (NJ). As a result number of species as well as total number of individuals has been not as good this year as Aug-Sept 2017. And so it was today - overnite winds from the NE. We found 10 warbler species but numbers were not great. Best birds were two Prairie Warbler adults; Red-breasted Nuthatches; and a very pale juvenile Red-tailed Hawk hunting in the north woods. Today's list of birds for Friday, 14 September: Deborah Allen is still away with her mom in Washington State - she will be back soon to do our daily bird list.


Saturday, 15 September (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - continued winds from the northeast. We had five warbler species today in the overcast conditions, but when the skies cleared we had a kettle of five Ospreys (Mark). Also, we added a Belted Kingfisher and a Green Heron at Turtle Pond. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 15 September: Deborah Allen is still away with her mom in Washington State - she will be back soon to do our daily bird list.


Sunday, 16 September (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - Jeff Ward led the bird walk today, and the group found 30+ Red-breasted Nuthatches (most in the Pinteum but others scattered throughout the Ramble). They also tracked down 10 Warbler species including a Pine Warbler. Note that White-breasted Nuthatches are starting to show up - perhaps we will have a small flight of these birds in October. Vicki Seabrook writes that before the walk, "Jeffrey saw a veery, a kestrel and a common nighthawk fly over at Shakespeare Garden." On the walk Vicki reports there were several flyover Ospreys. Jeff Ward's list of birds for Sunday, 16 September:


Monday, 17 September (Strawberry Fields at 8:00am and again at 9:00am) - Sandra Critelli led the bird walk today and the group found three warbler species - interesting because Saturday my group found very few (5 species), but Jeff added a few more (10) on Saturday; today warblers were uncommon again (3 spp.). However, there were Red-breasted Nuthatches (again check the Pinetum area), and Sandra also found Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a White-breasted Nuthatch and the usual other suspects.

Merlin - a fairly common falcon migrant through the eastern Bronx and Central Park

in late Sept through mid-October.


Big Day at Pelham Bay Park, Bronx (17 September 1990) Many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first - Matthew 19:30 I vaguely remember arriving at the hawkwatch on that Monday morning, September 17, 1990: it was 5:25am, still dark. Someone had once told me that at Fire Island, the falcons moved in the twilight. So on this day I did not want to miss a Merlin, much less be accused of favoring the soaring hawks over those that cut the air. At 6:02am, ring-billed and herring gulls began flying from their offshore roosts in the Long Island Sound toward feeding grounds of the west Bronx. At 6:06am a nighthawk emerged from oak/sassafras woods and 6:10am brought the first signs of flying insects. Crows began making short flights at 6:16am, while a lone osprey passed about 35 feet overhead at 6:35am. Nothing much happened in terms of migration for the next two hours or so, save a loon heading west at 7:15am. Local ospreys began hunting for fish at 7:18am, and they returned carrying 8 to 12 inch fish from other areas of the park at 7:22, 8:00, 8:20 and 8:34am. (During the previous two weeks, Ospreys had been observed hitting the water 222 times in the area of the hawkwatch and catching 70 fish, about a 32% success rate.) Joe and Virginia Sbano arrived at 8:30am. Mike Culhane drifted in at 9:15am. By 10:00am we had only counted 11 Osprey, 1 Northern Harrier, 4 Sharp-shinnned hawks and 6 American Kestrels. We passed the time watching model airplanes zoom overhead and a flock of Canada Geese walking in procession to pools of freshwater in the parking lot. A Police Department helicopter practiced landings and takeoffs with Dobermans until 9:45am. Joe Sbano spotted a small kettle of 46 Broad-winged Hawks at 10:30am, but overall, it remained quiet. The flight hit between 11am and Noon in the strong 12-20mph north-northwest winds. Kettles of Broad-wings would come in low over Hunter's Island from New Rochelle (north) and proceed to thermal up over Orchard Beach and the parking lot. Two Bald Eagles, one an adult, arrived at the fore of 1,080 streaming Broad-wings. Another immature eagle, being dived at by Broad-wings came through. Tom Renner, Bob Ruckh and Ernie arrived. A fourth eagle passed low overhead also being bombarded by Broad-wings. I decided to ask Mike Culhane to count hawks for a few minutes so that I could take some photographs of what we were seeing. I figured I'd better get some evidence because no one would believe what was happening. Mike would start out counting just fine: "One, two, five, ten, etc." Then there was a pause and the numbers would get more spaced out: "Twenty-five, one hundred, A Lot! Too Many! Holy Bleep! Bleep-Bleep Bob! There are at least bleeping bleep-bleep hundred! No wait! Maybe bleeping, bleep-bleep-bleep thousand bleeping hawks. I finally got finished taking the bleeping photographs and got back to counting the chaos in the skies above. There were indeed a lot of hawks at all heights above us. There were more birds than any of the people who stood there had seen before in their collective lives. Huge masses of birds were swirling up and streaming away, and we could still see more to the north on their way. Later I would happen to look over again at Mike. He had the most delightful expression of joy and pain in his eyes. In essence he was right. Trying to put a number on what we were witnessing did seem beside the point... In the Noon to 1:00pm hour the cloud cover increased and the kettles became easier to see. From Noon till 4:00pm we tallied a conservative 10,210 Broad-wings. Interestingly, as the Broad-wings gained altitude over Hunter's Island and the parking lot, they were pushed by the wind to the southeast (and toward the Long Island Sound). Although some kettles continued along the shore of the Sound, the majority of the Broad-wings streamed out to the west and northwest -- almost directly into the wind. It is my guess that these Broad-wings chose a route following Pelham Parkway/Fordham Road. These birds may then have crossed the Hudson River somewhere in the area of Inwood Hill Park or Riverdale. Indeed, on the following day, Paul Rodewald from Wildlife Conservation International of the Bronx Zoo told us that on his lunch hour he had counted about 1,500 Broad-wings going west over the Zoo and nearby Botanical Gardens. At 4:30pm, Peter Gustas spotted a lone immature Bald Eagle soaring overhead. It was our fifth eagle of the day. At 4:35pm, Hugh Martin pulled in and we followed this eagle for several minutes before it also went west. Pete then began watching some Broad-wings going west over us at 4:44pm. It was the beginning of a streaming kettle. At 5:05pm we counted the last of this group, roughly 2,575 in all. After another kettle of about 350 Broad-wings passed at 5:25pm, the hawks stopped coming. At 5:40pm, we packed up and left. The final tally of the day: Osprey - 61 Bald Eagle - 5 (two adults; three immatures) Northern Harrier - 5 Sharp-shinned Hawk - 69 Broad-winged Hawk - 15,459 American Kestrel - 26 Total - 15,625

Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile/hatch-year bird)

HAWK FLIGHTS IN CONNECTICUT * BY C. C. TROWBRIDGE, COLUMBIA COLLEGE. *read before the New York Academy of Sciences, May 13, 1895. ...The first very large flight of hawks which I ever witnessed occurred on the 18th of September, 1886, and on that day there was also a great flight of Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and Flickers (Colaptes auratus). I started from New Haven early in the morning and arrived upon the field of observation before sunrise. The hawks appeared at about seven o'clock, and the flight continued during the rest of the morning. All the Raptores passed westward along the coast-line of Connecticut. At one moment they flew high above the fields, and at the next low over the crests of the hills, some nearly grazing the open ground, while others darted through the tree tops of the more wooded portions of the high lands. Several species of hawks were very abundant, especially the Sharp-shinned, in the young plumage. On the 6th of September of the following year (1887), there occurred another great flight of hawks, and I was again fortunate enough to witness it. There was little wind at first, and the hawks did not appear until nine o'clock in the morning, when a few Sharp-shinned Hawks were observed. But later on in the day, the wind increased in force. Thousands of hawks of different species flew past New Haven, and Broad-winged Hawks, both adults and young, appeared soaring in an immense cluster. In one great flock alone there must have been three hundred hawks, the greater part of which were undoubtedly Broad-winged Hawks although with field glasses I distinguished several species in the flock. I also observed several Bald Eagles in various plumages, circling high. The flight continued from nine o'clock in the morning until darkness set in in the evening. The day was cool and fine and the wind blew very briskly from the north. On the next day there was a flight for a short time early in the morning, but the direction of the wind changed and the flight ceased soon after. One week later, on the 24th of September, after a number of days of southerly winds, there occurred a flight which lasted from six o'clock in the morning until noon. I was informed by several collectors, who were out shooting at the time, that three flocks of Broad-winged Hawks passed over them, and that they were able to secure a number of the birds. I examined several and found that the adult specimens were moulting about the head. No very large flight of hawks occurred in the fall of 1888, but in 1889 on the 28th of September there was another great flight, but, unfortunately, I did not see it, for on that day I was in Hartford, Connecticut, where no flight occurred. Although I have been in the northern part of the State of Connecticut repeatedly in the autumn, I have never seen more than a few hawks at one time in that section and those were generally flying southward, on a day when the wind blew from the north. Mr. Willard G. Van Name of New Haven has informed me that the flight which took place on September 28 was made up of almost all the species of hawks which are migrants in New England, and many other different land birds, and also that the hawks all flew in a westerly direction over the city of New Haven. On the days on which the above flights occurred, the conditions of the weather were quite the same. In each case it was clear and cool, with a strong northwest wind. On the 18th of September, 1890, when a large flight of hawks occurred, the day was warm and partly cloudy, but there was a light breeze from the northwest, and there had been southerly winds for a long period previous, which seemed to show that the south winds had temporarily checked the migration of the hawks. During this flight, the hawks flew higher than usual, but I observed two immense flocks of Broad-winged Hawks, and I saw several of them shot down, together with Sparrow Hawks [American Kestrels], Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Cooper's Hawks, all of which were plentiful.

Adult Broad-winged Hawk on migration

Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Cooper's Hawk (juvenile/hatch-year bird) - a common Sept-Oct migrant over NYC

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