Hawk Ridge runs along the crest of the hill, about 800 feet above Lake Superior, at the east end of Duluth, and is one of the best places in the world to observe fall hawk migrations.
Hawks, eagles and other birds of prey moving south from Canada concentrate there because they are reluctant to cross a body of water as large as Lake Superior, and they use the updrafts along the lakeshore on their way south. The North Shore acts as a funnel, and the ridge above Duluth is the spout.
Hawk-watching begins in mid-August and continues into December, with the biggest flights usually occurring now through Sept. 23. The best time to observe the birds is from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but there is almost no migration on days with an easterly wind or precipitation.
Clear skies and a northwest wind provide the best conditions. On one mid-September day, only 50 hawks were seen. The next day, after skies had cleared, 19,225 birds were counted. Fourteen species, including broad-winged hawks, turkey vultures, bald eagles, ospreys and red-tailed hawks, are regular migrants over Hawk Ridge. Besides birds of prey, other migrating birds such as blue jays, American robins, northern flickers and small warblers are observed and counted. As an example, on Sept. 11 in 2018, 2,336 blue jays were counted flying over the ridge and area.
Hawk Ridge is well known, and I have met observers there from all over the Upper Midwest and beyond, enjoying this autumn phenomenon. Most often knowledgeable birders are present who are willing to help beginners identify the flying and gliding birds.
Jim Gilbert is the author of five books. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.