HawkFest, a two-day celebration focusing on birds of prey and the annual fall hawk migration, will be landing at Lake Erie Metropark on Sept. 16 and 17 this year.
The family-style event is one of the most popular experiences that the Huron-Clinton Metroparks offers each year and it draws thousands of visitors to the park. After a short hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is celebrating its 31st year of educating local residents about eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls.
“We get usually on average between 2,000 and 4,000 people depending on the weather,” said Kevin Arnold, southern district interpretive supervisor at Huron-Clinton Metroparks. “It’s a very fun and busy event, every hour there’s something different going on, on top of everything that’s already setup.”
The event will be held both days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the park located at 32481 West Jefferson Ave., in Brownstown Twp.
The entire event is free, with the exception of the $10 vehicle pass required to enter the park.
“That’s the beauty of it—once you’re in the park you can partake in all of the activities for free,” Arnold said.
The entire weekend will be chock-full of presentations and actives, all of which are related to predatory birds, also known as raptors.
“We have vendors that will setup and all of them are either bird related or raptor related in some way shape or form,” Arnold said.
HawkFest vendors this year include the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, Wild Birds Unlimited, Rusty Feathers Design, Detroit Audubon, Oakland Audubon, and Vortex Optics—an American manufacturer of special optical equipment for wildlife watching and outdoor recreation.
In addition, the Michigan Hawking Club will be at the festival with live birds of prey that visitors can get up close and personal with.
“They’re setup both days so folks can come up and actually get up close with the birds, and they’ll bring the birds out and let you stand with them and get your picture taken,” Arnold said.
The event will also have a craft tent that runs on both days of the festival that features hawk related crafts. There will be a live birds presenter who is a birds of prey expert, and a one of a kind dance display from a Native American.
“Joe Rogers, who is a live birds presenter, will be presenting on both days,” Arnold said. “Reg Pettibone, of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin will be performing the ‘Dance of the Eagle’ Sunday afternoon.”
What makes the festival extra special is that it takes place during the annual fall hawk migration that occurs every year from September through late November.
During the migration, thousands of birds, including broad-winged hawks, cooper’s hawks, and turkey vultures, start to move through Michigan in great numbers.
“The reason why we do this in September is because it typically coincides with the broad-wing hawk migration, so most of our raptors fly over,” Arnold said. “Sometimes with turkey vultures you’ll get some big groups, but for the broad-wings, they’ll come over in really large numbers, and there are some days we’ll get tens of thousands of birds on one day, and I think the record from the early 1990s was over a half-million birds in one day.”
Arnold said that right on site at Lake Erie Metropark is the Detroit River Hawk Watch, which is a monitoring program that keeps an eye on the migrating birds.
“From Sept. 1 through Nov. 31 there are folks who are there everyday counting the raptors that fly over, and all of this gets put into a national database through the Hawk Migration Association of North America, so what they’re doing is a more scientific study of these birds and trends over the years,” he said.
Sometimes, people who visit HawkFest will themselves, migrate over to the Hawk Watch to witness any possible aerial action.
“It’s a pretty unique event, but unfortunately you can’t tell the birds when to come through,” Arnold said. “Hopefully it coincides with HawkFest, it is a really neat thing to see, so a lot of people who come out to the festival will also go right over to the hawk watch site and hang out there as well.”
For a full lineup of all the happenings at this year’s HawkFest, visit metroparks.com/hawkfest.