Results are in from Grandfather Mountain’s annual Hawk Watch for 2022. Staff and volunteers at Grandfather Mountain, the not-for-profit nature park run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, came together during the month of September for a vast citizen-science project to count and identify the numerous species of raptors during their annual journey to warmer climates.
Raptors are birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles, owls and vultures. The telltale signs of the raptor are sharp talons, a hooked upper bill and keen eyesight. While some raptors remain in place during winter, most will travel south, where food is more abundant.
Visitors had a front-row seat to one of nature’s most stunning spectacles and were invited to join the mountain’s naturalists as they tallied the number of migrating passersby in the sky from viewing locations on Linville Peak and Half Moon Overlook. Grandfather Mountain is one of more than 300 Hawk Watch sites officially designated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
This year, a total of 3,064 migrating raptors were recorded overhead, with broad-winged hawks being the most-counted species. The average monthly total for Hawk Watch over the last 12 years is 4,108.
More than 900 hours were invested in Hawk Watch in September of 2022, between both volunteer and staff time.
The busiest day of the count came on Sept. 21, during which 1,387 birds were recorded, with favorable weather conditions of clear skies and sunshine. The second-busiest day came on Sept. 23, when 929 raptors were counted.
“Weather is always a key factor when it comes to Hawk Watch and is ultimately what determines if we see a large number of birds, or if they get pushed further east or west,” said John Caveny, director of education and natural resources with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. “Rain or fog, storm systems, temperature and prevailing winds all play a key part in the routes that raptors take as they migrate. They want to take the path of least resistance on their journey south – and sometimes that is directly over Grandfather Mountain, and other times it is not.”
Grandfather Mountain is typically a prime spot for viewing this phenomenon because it sits along the eastern escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains, and its rocky peaks generate strong thermal uplifts and allow excellent visibility.
Aside from offering quite a show, 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 contribute to this growing body of research.
“We cannot make population trend estimates based on our site alone,” said Caveny. “We have to zoom out and look at the region as a whole to get an idea if we are seeing more or less of a species.”
The goal is to accumulate a large set of data over an extended period of time in order for researchers to examine the birds’ migratory patterns and what external factors, such as climate change, may be affecting them.
“Overall, this is a great program because all of the data that we, and all other Hawk Watch sites, input into HawkCount.org is available for researchers to look at population trends of species, as well as to create models of the flyways that the species are taking,” said Caveny. “When it comes to conservation projects like this, long-term data is key in being able to better understand the issues that these species are facing.”
To learn more about Hawk Watch at Grandfather Mountain, visit www.grandfather.com/hawk-watch.
To view more data from this year’s Hawk Watch, visit www.hawkcount.org/grandfathermountain.
Hawk Watch Participants: Photo by Dennis Smith
Broad-Winged Hawk Perched: Photo by Will Bennett