One of the greatest spectacles of fall migration is seeing a swirling flock of Broad-winged Hawks passing by on their way to South America.
The birding faithful, or bird paparazzi from the birds’ viewpoint, gather with their binoculars and cameras to document every moment of their departure.
Bet you’ll never see as many Swarovski spotting scopes, Canon, and Nikon cameras in one place.
We call it the $500k send-off.
There is a word for this incredible display of migrating Broad-winged hawks. They’re called kettles.
A fitting name because the assembly of Broadwings looks like a vast cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon.
Broad-winged Hawks Make a Grand Exit
Kettles contain thousands of circling birds.
If you do the math, that’s a ratio of about one Broad-winged Hawk per onlooker for thousands of bird watchers gathering at places like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania, where most Broadwings pass by within a single week in mid-September.
Talk about making a grand exit.
Broad-winged Hawks fly off to South America and leave you wanting more.
Broadwings migrate back in the spring, undetected, under the camouflage of spring buds. But then one day, when you’re hiking on the outskirts of a forested area and look up to see a Broad-winged hawk staring at you from its perch before it flies deep under the forest canopy.
Almost saying, “What’s taken you so long.”
We enjoy hiking on the O&W Rail Trail in New York from Rosendale through Stone Ridge, which parallels a forested area, and we often find Broad-winged Hawks’ feathers along the trail.
A Broadwing’s feathers are a dark brown-black color with white vertical striping. Their primary feathers, feathers used for flight, can be as long as 8 inches.
Seeing Broad-winged Hawks
You might think you’ve never seen a Broad-winged Hawk, but chances are you’ve probably seen them and didn’t even know it.
These birds are in the U S. during summer for the breeding season in the eastern half of the country.
If you want to find Broad-winged Hawks, go to an eastern or northern forest and listen for their piercing two-parted whistles. You’ll hear their calls while they’re circling above the forest canopy when they’re easier to see.
One of our favorite places to see Broad-winged Hawks is at Deer Pond Farm in Sherman, Connecticut.
Deer Pond Farm is a picturesque slice of heaven spanning 835 acres nestled along the Connecticut-New York border and home to 100 bird species during the breeding season.
The Broad-winged Hawk is a bird of the forest interior and can be hard to see during the nesting season. But this sanctuary’s forest is surrounded by open fields, so it’s easy to spot them flying overhead, crossing over into a patch of woods.
Broadwings are Short, Stocky Birds
Broad-winged Hawks look similar to Red-shouldered Hawks, but Broadwings are slightly smaller, like a crow-sized hawk. And their tails are not long and narrow like Red-shouldered Hawks.
A Broadwing’s tail is the key for identifying them in flight.
These birds live up to their name with their broad wings and thickly black and white striped tail bars. The large black bar at the end of their tail is thicker than its other black bars, so you can easily spot them without binoculars.
Adult Broadwings have a striking color combination of a rich, dark brown back and a pale chest and belly accenting against amber cinnamon chestnut-colored stripes.
Broadwings as Backyard Birds
Like other hawk species, Broad-winged Hawks prey on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other small birds.
These birds prefer to hunt near woodland edges near fields and clearings, so they might visit your backyard depending on where you live.
Since we are close to a forested area, have bird feeders up, and host an incredible number of squirrels and chipmunks feeding on the scraps from the bird feeders, Broadwings stop by for a visit.
Recently we saw a Broadwing checking out the bird feeder area from atop a utility pole before quickly flying through our feeder zone and perching on a branch, offering it an optimal view of the backyard action.
It’s incredible watching these birds up close, relating to the sights and sounds they’re experiencing and their reaction to the surroundings.
Summer reminds us our time with these beautiful hawks is waning as they’ll be heading off for the 4,350-mile journey back to South America in early September.
Making a grand exit and leaving their audience begging for an encore.