When is the best time of day to watch hawks at Derby Hill?
When is the best time of year to watch hawks at Derby Hill?
What are ‘favorable conditions’ for a hawk flight?
What are ‘unfavorable conditions’ for a hawk flight?
Why does Derby Hill have two lookouts?
What facilities are available to the general public?
Can I bring my dog?
Q: When is the best time of day to watch hawks at Derby Hill?
A: The best time is generally mid-morning through early afternoon, but pronounced wether changes usually also trigger or stop movement, This can happen throughout the day, and you’re best advised to check local weather sites such as Weather Underground.
Q: When is the best time of year to watch hawks at Derby Hill?
A: The season runs from March 1 through May 31. Before mid-March and after mid-May, conditions need to be favorable for any hawk migration to be visible. During the Month of April, there will be a hawk flights under any conditions that aren’t directly unfavorable (such as heavy rain or northwest winds). Some raptors can be seen throughout the season (e.g., Bald Eagle), others are more restricted (e.g., Broad-winged Hawks during the second half of April, most Red-shouldered Hawks during the second half of March, most Ospreys during the second half of April and the first half of May).
Q: What are ‘favorable conditions’ for a hawk flight?
A: At Derby Hill favorable conditions are moderate winds from the southerly directions, a mix of cloud and sunshine, and a trend of higher temperatures (warm front). Not only do local conditions matter, the weather to our south and west (where the hawks are coming from) needs to be favorable for hawk migration too. The best conditions generally occur when the skies open up after several days of decidedly unfavorable conditions (e.g. rain) and a strong warm front pushes through. Moderate to strong southeast winds tend to bring the hawks lower, and they can sometimes be seen up close at eye-level as they hurry past the hill. During the spring season, posts to this web site, OnondagaAudubon.com, as well as to Oneidabirds and Hawkcount include predictions.
Q: What are ‘unfavorable conditions’ for a hawk flight?
A: Precipitation of any kind (although Harriers will fly in light rain); strong northerly winds; and unseasonably cold weather.
Q: Why does Derby Hill have two hawk lookouts?
A: At Derby Hill, there is a North Lookout (on the hill, closest to the lake) and a South Lookout (on the right as you drive in on Sage Creek Drive off of 104B). When the wind is from a southerly direction, the hawk watching is usually better on the North Lookout. When the wind is from a northerly direction, the hawk watching is usually better at the South Lookout. The South Lookout is a little more exposed, so dress for wind chill conditions on northerly winds.
Q: What facilities are available to the general public?
A: During the spring hawk watch season, each lookout has a port-a-potty.
Q: Can I bring my dog?
A: Sure, but be respectful of other hawk watchers.
If you would like to be smarter than a fifth grader, here are some questions your kid’s will ask
What is a raptor?
What is a thermal?
How do raptors find thermals?
Why do they use thermals?
Why do hawks migrate?
Why are there so many hawks at Derby Hill?
What is the difference between vultures and the other raptors?
Can vultures smell?
What is a dihedral?
What is an accipiter?
What is a buteo?
What is a falcon?
What is a harrier?
When do hawks migrate?
Do owls migrate over Derby Hill?
What other birds besides raptors migrate over Derby Hill?
Why do people count raptors?
Q: What is a raptor?
A: A raptor is a bird of prey, like a hawk, an eagle, a kite, a falcon or an owl. It generally takes live prey with its feet.
Q: What is a thermal?
A: A thermal is a column of warm, rising air that most raptors use to get higher in the air. Thermals form as the sun warms the earth. Therefore they can only form over land, and only when the sun is shining. Big, dark flat surfaces (for example, parking lots) tend to create powerful thermals on sunny days.
Q: How do raptors find thermals?
A: Some hawks, like the Broad-winged Hawk for example, travel in groups. They see other hawks flying in circles, getting higher and higher, and go to these thermals.
Q: Why do they use thermals?
A: In a thermal, a hawk only has to spread its wings to circle higher and higher. When he is really high, he can glide away to the next thermal. This way of travel is much easier for the hawk than flapping its wings. Some hawks have to travel very far, and they would get tired if they traveled while flapping their wings all the time. This is particularly true for hawks with broad wings, like Redtails, Broadwings, Roughlegs.
Q: Why do hawks migrate?
A: Hawks are not the only birds that migrate south every fall and north every spring. Many of them depend on other animals (birds or mammals) for their food, and if these food resources are not available – because the food migrated south, or hibernated, or because it lives under the snow cover – then the hawks have no choice but to go south, where food is more easily available.
Q: Why are there so many hawks at Derby Hill?
A: Hawks don’t like to fly over water, because there are no thermals there. So, in the Eastern US, Canadian hawks that migrate north to their breeding grounds in spring will eventually find the Great Lakes on their way. Some will fly directly over the lakes, but most will fly around them. Derby Hill is the last corner of Lake Ontario, so they concentrate here; once they have passed Derby Hill, they spread out again as they continue north.
Q: What is the difference between vultures and the other raptors?
A: Virtually all raptors catch their own prey, so they take live animals. Vultures generally do not kill their prey, but look for animals that are already dead. Some raptors (eagles, for example) will also feed on dead animals, especially in winter when there is not much food around.
Q: Can vultures smell?
A: Yes! Some of them anyway. Turkey Vultures are believed to have a well-developed sense of smell; this is often how they find their food. Look carefully at the head of a Turkey Vulture and you will see that it has large holes (‘nostrils’) in its beak. Black Vultures cannot smell and have to look for their food as they fly around.
Q: What is a dihedral?
A: A dihedral is a technical term for what it looks like when a soaring bird (hawk, eagle or vulture) holds its wings in a V-shape. Turkey Vultures usually hold their wings in a strong dihedral, and can easily be recognized from great distances by this trait. Redtails often soar on wings held in a shallow dihedral, while Bald Eagles tend to hold their wings flat.
Q: What is an accipiter?
A: At any hawk watch, you can often hear people say they see an ‘accipiter’. What they mean by that is that they see a hawk with short wings and a long tail. They can see it is not a redtail or a vulture, but they are not sure if it is a Sharp-shinned Hawk (small), a Cooper’s hawk (medium) or a Northern Goshawk (large). These three hawks have the same shape and plumage, and are therefore difficult to separate in the field. All three belong to the family of accipiters. Their long tails and short wings enable them to hunt low between trees and shrubs, and most of them feed on other birds.
Q: What is a buteo?
A: Buteos are a family of hawks. They have short tails and broad wings, and tend to soar often. The Red-tailed Hawk (‘redtail’) is the most widespread and familiar one, but Broad-winged Hawks (‘broadwings’), Red-shouldered Hawks (‘redshoulders’) and Rough-legged Hawks (‘roughlegs’) also belong to this family.
Q: What is a falcon?
A: Falcons are hawks with slender, pointed wings and medium to long tails. Many are fast fliers and don’t soar as often as for example the buteos. The familiar American Kestrel is the smallest member of this family. Other falcons seen at Derby Hill each season are the Merlin and the Peregrine Falcon.
Q: What is a harrier?
A: Harriers are hawks with long wings and long tails. In North America, the Northern Harrier is the only member of this world-wide family. Unlike most other hawks, the males and the females look very different. Adult males are a ghostly pale blueish grey, with black wing tips and a dark hood. Females and young birds are brown. All harriers have a white rump patch.
Q: When do hawks migrate?
A: Most of them migrate in the middle part of the day, when thermals are strongest. The ones that don’t depend on thermals so much can migrate all day (for example falcons and harriers).
Q: Do owls migrate over Derby Hill?
A: Probably. Most of them migrate at night, so we don’t see them.
Q: What other birds besides raptors migrate over Derby Hill?
A: Depending on the time of season, you can see lots of crows, geese, redwings, grackles, orioles, and blue jays flying over Derby Hill. In May, the hedges at Derby Hill can be full of small songbirds (warblers) that wintered in Central and South America and breed here or in Canada. Many of them stay for only a short period. In spring, Song Sparrows are usually around in good numbers.
Q: Why do people count raptors?
A: Most people enjoy watching raptors because they think raptors are beautiful. Some people count them, because they want to know how many raptors are out there in the wild. If you count them year after year after year, you can compare your count results and find out how they are doing. Are their numbers increasing or decreasing? That kind of information is useful for the protection of these birds and for the conservation of their habitats.