A Bird’s Eye View of the 2021 Season
Crisp, beautiful weather and a pile of happy visitors marked the end of the 17th consecutive raptor monitoring season at Pack Monadnock on November 20. The day was mild with a light west wind, similar to many other days of favorable weather this fall – days ‘almost too nice for hawk watching,’ according to lead counter and raptor biologist Levi Burford. Still, Levi and our team of volunteer observers tallied an impressive 9,605 migrant raptors in 548 hours of observation time in 2021. Our team also engaged with more than 6,500 visitors (a record-high tally and 2,000+ more visitors than the 2020 season!), including 350 students from area schools – something that was sorely missed last year. This season also marked ten years since the count was extended into November, providing conservation biologists with a more accurate picture of late-season raptor migration and population trends in the Northeast.
2021 saw another new record-high season total for Bald Eagle (227), as observed from Pack Monadnock. (photo © Judd Nathan)
On October 22, 2021, the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory recorded its first Black Vultures in the history of the project. (photo © Phil Brown)
Species Trends & Conservation
Though the biggest flight of Broad-winged Hawks passed to the north and west of Pack Monadnock this fall, accounting for a below-average overall tally, most other raptor species were counted in average to above-average levels. Record high counts were recorded for Black Vulture (two, a first count record for the site), Turkey Vulture (641, nearly doubling the previous season high count), and Bald Eagle (227). In addition, Red-shouldered Hawk tied its previous high count with 223. All of the aforementioned species are exhibiting positive regional population trends.
Other species, including Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, and American Kestrel – all showing regional long-term declines in migration – came in at right around their respective long-term averages. High counts for many of these species may indicate favorable migration weather or high levels of breeding success in these populations during the 2021 breeding season. Only Northern Goshawk (13), Osprey (182), and Broad-winged Hawk (6,055) – which are also exhibiting negative migratory trends – stood at levels well below average.
Only when these data are analyzed alongside those from other long-term migration monitoring sites will the complete picture become clear. What we do know now is that raptor population trends across the 15 species we regularly tally at Pack Monadnock are a mixed bag, but that we can take actions to help conserve many of these species.
Two of a flock of 17 Common Nighthawks, flying by in broad daylight on September 6. (photo © Andre Moraes / raven.digital)
Having been robbed of our 10,000th migrant raptor celebration by a poor showing from the Broad-winged Hawks, we chose to celebrate the 1,000th Monarch Butterfly instead. (photo © Francie Von Mertens)
2021 brought a diversity of birds to the Observatory. A total of 95 bird species were recorded, including good tallies of warblers and other songbirds, as well as late-season waterbirds. Highlights included less-common species such as two flocks of Brant, two Northern Shrikes (including one that was singing!), Rusty Blackbird, a flock of White-winged Scoter, and 32 Sandhill Cranes – an astounding total for New Hampshire – on the final day of the season.
More than 1,000 Monarch butterflies were also tallied, the third-highest number in Pack count history.
All bird data were entered into eBird.org and, like the raptor migration data, are available to scientific analysis as well as the general public. Raptor migration data are also available at hawkcount.org and are provided to the Raptor Population Index for long-term analyses and periodic raptor population trend estimates.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was one of three rehabilitated raptors returned to the wild at Pack Monadnock on September 19. (photo © Judd Nathan)
More than 6,500 people visited the Observatory in 2021, including 351 students from 12 different schools. (photo © Phil Brown)
Education & Events
2021 marked a return to school group visits, as Harris Center staff and volunteer educators worked with 12 different schools in 16 organized visits, totaling 351 students in all.
International Hawk Migration Week in mid-September brought 684 human visitors and 3,540 total migrant raptors — over a third of the season’s final tally. As part of the week’s festivities, the Observatory hosted its first raptor release since 2019: three rehabilitated raptors — a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Broad-winged Hawk, and an American Kestrel — were released back to the wild in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd (by design, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions) of 75 lucky spectators.
Harris Center Broad-wings on Wintering Grounds!
The Harris Center’s three tagged hawks – Thelma, Monadnock, and Harris – have likely now settled into their wintering territories. Two of these birds spent at least the last couple of weeks of November in Colombia — an exciting development, as previously-studied birds of the same species breeding in Pennsylvania have wintered further south in South America. According to Dr. Laurie Goodrich of Hawk Mountain, this may be an example of chain migration, and data from these individuals may help answer questions about migration connectivity for populations of Broad-winged Hawks from different areas. Stay tuned to Hawk Mountain’s Broad-winged Hawk Project map for updated spring migration maps starting in March, when our birds begin to move north. In the meantime, the Harris Center will be gearing up for another season of Broad-winged Hawk nest monitoring, so we can learn even more about the New England population of this beloved raptor species.
On behalf of the Harris Center and New Hampshire Audubon in partnership with NH Parks, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, we thank you – our sustaining donors, partners, supporters, volunteers, observers, and readers – for following the migration with us this season, and for enabling us to continue our important dual mission of educating the visiting public about raptors and contributing vital data to international raptor population monitoring efforts. Major support for this season’s efforts was provided by the Gilbert Verney Foundation, Nature’s Green Grocer, and sustaining individual donors.
For more detailed information, including an in-depth season summary, trend analyses for each raptor species we observed, a complete avian species list, acknowledgements, and more, download the full report from the 2021 season.
For more information on the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory, please contact Phil Brown by email.