In early autumn, Hawk Ridge in Duluth is a birding hot spot. Hawk Ridge runs along the crest of the hill at the east end of Duluth, sitting about 800 feet above Lake Superior. It’s one of the best places in the world to observe fall migrations. Thousands of hawks, eagles and other birds of prey pass over this ridge while leaving Canada for wintering areas as close as southern Minnesota or as distant as South America. This route allows them to avoid crossing the vast expanse of Lake Superior while taking advantage of the updrafts that occur along the rocky Superior shore. You could say 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 in September. The best time to observe the birds seems to be 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. On Sept. 15, 2003, a phenomenal 102,329 hawks were tallied as they flew and glided over Hawk Ridge.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.