Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Raptor Migration

Time to head south: Look above the Idaho skies on an autumn day, and you're bound to see birds migrating towards warmer climes.

Some are quite apparent: the large flocks of ducks and geese, the sandhill cranes calling overhead.

Look closely, and you may also notice large numbers of raptors.

Raptor migrations follow flyways, some of them famous among birders. Most notable perhaps is Pennsylvania's Hawk Mountain, a funnel for thousands of raptors each year. In the early 1900s, shooters lined this ridge and blasted hawks for sport, until conservationist Rosalie Edge led an effort to purchase this ridge as a sanctuaryin 1934. Today, this private reserve is a popular spot for birders to enjoy the migration.

Idaho is another great place to see the migration. The Boise Foothills are a staging area: a place for raptors to rest a bit before the long trip across the desert. The Idaho Bird Observatory bands raptors (and migrating songbirds) here, an activity that has led to greater understanding of Idaho's migrations.

Sharp-shinned hawks can often be seen at this time of year in great numbers--in national forests, in the desert canyons, even around towns.

Cooper's hawks, redtails, kestrels, golden eagles, prairie falcons, peregrines: All are on the move. For the long journey, they need spots to rest and feed along their way. Researchers are still learning about the needs of migratory birds like raptors. In the meantime, we know that having protected areas along the route is a vital way to keep these birds on the move.

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