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.
September-October, 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. 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.
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.
Lighthouse Point Park - located in New Haven, CT, birds have been seen here migrating through as low as head-height! Counts of fall migrating raptors are, on average, higher than at any reporting site northeast of Cape May. Merlin counts are exceeded only by Fire Island.
Chesnut Hill - located in Litchfield, CT.
There are 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.