DULUTH — The hawks have been flying over the hill here for millennia, riding air currents around the western tip of Lake Superior as they wing their way south for winter.
The hawk watchers have been coming for decades, too, and as the hawk migration peaks this month, organizers at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory are hosting their annual Hawk Weekend on Sept. 15-17.
Watching hawks and other birds is always free at Hawk Ridge Nature Preserve, but many special events during Hawk Weekend require preregistration and a $5 wristband.
Events include field trips to Sax-Zim Bog, guided walks and programs at Hawk Ridge, songbird-banding workshops, a live hawk demonstration and much more. Some events already are full, but you can find more information at
As of Tuesday, official hawk watchers had tallied 7,000 birds so far this season at the ridge. On Tuesday alone, they counted a mix of nearly 4,000 birds of 42 species, including nearly 2,000 cedar waxwings, nearly 1,500 blue jays and 83 sharp-shinned hawks.
Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is the place, founded in 1972 and located on land owned by the city of Duluth. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is the nonprofit organization, founded in 2004, that manages the 365-acre property and operates research and education programs there under an agreement with the city.
The mission of the observatory is to protect birds of prey and other migratory birds in the Western Lake Superior Region through research, education and stewardship.
Hawk Ridge is a destination for birders worldwide. More than 20,000 people visit during migration, and some 85% of the people who sign visitor cards are from outside Duluth. There’s now a seasonal Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory staff of more than 20 people, including bird counters and bird banders, public outreach and education staff. The budget now tops $200,000 annually.
Hawk Weekend is timed for the peak migration of the common raptors flying over Duluth. But the action continues for several months, so if you can’t make Hawk Weekend there’s still many weeks of good hawk-watching ahead.
Hawks begin migrating past Hawk Ridge in mid-August and continue through November. The big days, when tens of thousands of broad-winged hawks may fly over, generally occur Sept. 10-25.
Hawk Ridge isn’t just about watching and counting birds. The observatory staff conducts research as well, especially banding raptors, which helps track population and migration trends.
This is the 52nd year that hawk banding has occurred at Hawk Ridge. An average of 3,000 raptors are trapped (netted) banded and released at Hawk Ridge each year.
There are no specific hours at the ridge, but staff is on hand every day now through Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mid-mornings are often peak for migration.
Clear days with west, northwest or north winds are best, pushing more birds south. Rainy days with a strong east or south wind make it harder for birds to fly here, so sometimes they don’t. But there will be birds of some sort moving almost every day.
Binoculars are the most important tool as many raptors wing high over the hill. Dress for the weather, which can be extreme on Duluth’s hilltop, especially with an easterly wind. A camping or bag chair is a good idea as there is no seating. If you plan to do any hiking on the 4 miles of Hawk Ridge trails, hiking boots are a good choice as the trails are rugged.
There is no building at Hawk Ridge; everything is outdoors. There is a portable toilet available during the peak migration and Hawk Ridge offers some light snacks and merchandise for sale.
Bird counting and most bird watching is done above the second, larger overlook at 3980 E. Skyline Parkway, about 1 mile east of Glenwood Street and just past where the blacktop turns to gravel. On crowded weekend days, be prepared to park some distance from the overlook and walk.
Watch the migration count online
Each year, the raptor count at Hawk Ridge is one of the two or three highest anywhere north of Mexico, averaging 76,000 annually tracking 16 regular hawk visitors and four rare hawk species, plus three rare migrating owl species and all sorts of songbirds and waterfowl.
See nearly real-time raptor counts at
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected].