Where are the best places to watch, count, and photograph raptors? Find out here.
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Photo: Michael Kralik/Audubon Photography Awards
Have you ever witnessed a “kettle”? No, we aren’t talking about the kitchen appliance.
Each fall, Broad-winged Hawks and other birds of prey migrate across Connecticut by the thousand in large flocks called “kettles” (scroll down for a video!), soaring on thermals from their breeding grounds to winter habitat thousands of miles away. This migration season occurs from late August through November, but the peak is September-October. While fall is the best time to spot hawks in astonishing numbers, there are plenty of great places to rave over raptors at any time of year.
During fall migration, volunteer hawkwatchers count and observe thousands of raptors as they head south for the winter. The data is compiled and recorded to help advance scientific study and research. On a good day with northwest winds, or after a cold front, one may see a variety and large number of hawks such as eagles, kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Ospreys, Broad-winged Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons.
Audubon Connecticut submits its data to the Hawk Migration Association of America. The numbers help inform conservation action to increase the health of raptor populations and can be viewed at www.hawkcount.org.
Get your binoculars ready (or don't, since these large birds can be seen with the naked eye!), and get ready to see some birds of prey. The top places for raptor viewing in Connecticut include:
Because the migration route is influenced by weather patterns, hotspot viewing locations can vary from year to year and you don't always have to go to an official or active hawkwatch site to enjoy the show. Other locations to consider for hawk watching include:
Any overlooks one might choose for viewing fall foliage are good potential hawk watching sites too, especially if looking towards the north or northwest. Places like the Heublein Tower (at Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury), Sleeping Giant State Park (Hamden), or Castle Craig (at Hubbard Park, Meriden) are good locations to consider visiting.
Unfortunately, eastern Connecticut does not have locations where larger numbers of raptors can be viewed, but generally you can find a good diversity of migrating species in that region. Places with large fields with hedgerows can be great viewing locations too—like Hartford Audubon Society's Station 43 Wildlife Sanctuary (South Windsor) and Hammonasset Beach State Park (Madison).
There are also more great viewing sites right next door - click to see what New York has to offer during hawkwatch season!
In winter, you might notice an uptick in accipiters (most often Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks) visiting your bird feeder in search of prey. We also see an influx of Northern Harriers this time of year.
During your morning commute, you might also notice Red-tailed Hawks perched along the sides of local highways and open roads, whereas you might not notice them as much when the leaves are out! Keep your eyes peeled for Red-Shouldered Hawks in our area as well, which are semi-migratory—some do migrate south for the winter, but many stay in the region overwinter, too. We are a cusp region for the species.
Spring migration is more subtle and less noticeable than fall. While thousands gather to watch fall migration at official Hawkwatch sites, we suggest giving raptors space in spring and summer. Osprey are commonly seen nesting along our coast. The Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Coopers Hawk are commonly found in the woods, while American Kestrels can be spotted around open fields. Peregrine Falcons can be spotted in cities year-round.
One of the best ways to watch raptors during the warmer months is actually through webcams. Visit our Audubon Live! page to view Osprey and other nests up-close in Connecticut.