By: Kevin Arnold, Southern District Interpretive Services Supervisor
As autumn approaches, the thoughts of the staff at the Lake Erie Metropark Marshlands in Brownstown, Michigan turn to all things raptor because the Metropark is a site for one of the most prolific raptor migrations in North America. Three major factors work together to enhance the raptor migration of the region. These factors include the geography of the Great Lakes which funnel the birds along their eastern shores until they are forced across the 4-mile span between Windsor, Canada and Lake Erie Metropark, the rising columns of warm air called “thermals” which allow the birds to gain altitude without using much energy, and the weather which provide the necessary winds, barometric pressure, and humidity. During the month of September, the skies over the park are filled with Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, and the stars of the show, Broad-winged Hawks which can cross over in numbers in the tens of thousands. October brings a variety of birds including Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and Turkey Vultures. On four different occasions over the past 34 years, all 16 regularly occurring raptor species have been recorded during October. Though numbers and variety are the name of the game the first two months, November brings Arctic birds such as Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks and Rough-legged Hawks making the wait worthwhile. Although 2016 was a “below average” year for overall bird numbers, there were still nearly 70,000 birds that made their way through the area.
In 1990, the staff at the Lake Erie Marshlands Museum held the first Hawkfest, a celebration of the annual hawk migration over the park. Now in its’ 28th year, Hawkfest has evolved into a three-day event for the whole family. From the Friday night Kick-off Event to the Sunday afternoon Native American Eagle Dance which closes out the weekend, the celebration is filled with raptor-themed programs, crafts, games, and more. The Michigan Hawking Club is on hand all weekend with their live birds of prey to ensure there are plenty of photo opportunities as well. For those looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy the migration itself, our Hawk Watch site, operated in conjunction with the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, is located just around the corner. Experienced counters and hawk watchers are always happy to help out in identifying birds or discuss the process of counting raptors. If you are looking for a great way to celebrate the migration of our birds of prey, join us on September 15th, 16th, or 17th at Lake Erie Metropark for Hawkfest.