Every day from August to November, thousands of raptors pass over the most spectacular avian migration site in the world: Cardel and nearby Chichicaxtle, Veracruz, near the Gulf coast of Mexico. By season’s end, more than five million birds of prey — predominantly Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks, Mississippi Kites, and Turkey Vultures — will have flown over the two sites on their way to rich winter feeding grounds in Central and South America, to wait out the northern cold before winging home again on the winds of March.
Birders from around the world have been visiting Veracruz ever since the migration spectacle became widely known many years ago.
You might not expect more northern raptors to turn up, but they sometimes do. For example, the winter ranges of Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Bald Eagle are thought to end far to the north of the two famous hawk watches, but don’t tell that to researchers from the Veracruz River of Raptors Project.
In the September 2016 issue of The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, they describe no fewer than 77 records of the raptors migrating over Cardel and nearby Chichicaxtle during the autumn seasons of 1991-2014. The observations represent the southernmost reports for Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and Golden Eagle. (Bald Eagle had been reported in Veracruz once before, in 1947.)
While multiple records over multiple years could suggest the birds may be more than occasional vagrants, the authors write that they want to determine where the raptors spend the winter before concluding that their records represent true range extensions.
The River of Raptors Project is a collaboration between Pronatura Veracruz, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, and HawkWatch International. — Julie Craves
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A version of this article was published in the April 2017 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe.
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