I’ve been making the trek to Hawk Cliff for almost 30 years. I usually try to arrive early, before the raptors are in the air, to look for migrant songbirds. A wonderful, large mulberry tree near the main observation area is often filled with warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, and other species.
As the morning progresses, I’ll first see raptors that tend to move early: Merlins, Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and low-flying Northern Harriers. By mid-morning, the larger buteos catch building thermals, soaring upward before heading off to the west.
The place to watch for hawks is a knoll that is just steps from the parking area. On a mid-September day in 2000, I witnessed the passage of more than 131,000 raptors, mostly Broad-winged Hawks. I’ll never forget the sight of kettle after kettle boiling up into the sky. In late October 2011, I was treated to incredible views of 68 Golden Eagles passing overhead.
The best days have moderate-to-strong north, northwest, or northeast winds with a good buildup of cumulus clouds. On any given day, expect to see as many as 15 different raptor species; typical daily totals reach several hundred to a few thousand birds. — Dave Brown
Dave Brown is the official counter at the Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch and is its liaison to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Cliffs overlooking Lake Erie, patches of Carolinian forest, agricultural fields, tree lines.
Mostly flat. Wheelchair-accessible, depending on condition of ground.
More than 200 species. Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged, Red-tailed, and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon (rare), Mississippi Kite (rare), Swainson’s Hawk (uncommon), Tundra Swan, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow- and Black-billed Cuckoos, Townsend’s Solitaire (uncommon), Northern Mockingbird, White-eyed Vireo (uncommon), Cape May, Bay-breasted, and Prairie Warblers, Scarlet Tanager.
When to go
September to December for raptors. September and early October for songbirds.
Portable restrooms. Live-raptor talks on two weekends in mid-September. Volunteers usually on site to assist in spotting and identifying birds.
Operated by non-profit Hawk Cliff Hawk Watch and St. Thomas Field Naturalists. Open 7-4 most days, September through November. No fees. Land around hawk watch is private; visitors have access only to east side of property and only along inside edge of landowner’s field. Parking area is alongside observation knoll.
Bring binoculars, scope, folding chair, layers of clothing, hat, gloves, and food and drink.