A Birdwatcher's Dream
You're standing at one of the best hawk-watching sites in New England. Every autumn birds of prey from Northern New England and Canada migrate south in a broad band across New England. Because theses birds don't like to fly over large, open bodies of water, when they reach Long Island Sound they turn west, toward New York City, and concentrate along the coast-especially at the south-protruding peninsula of Lighthouse Point. More than 12,000 raptors pass through here each fall. During peak migration in September and October, thousands of birds can go by in a single day!
What is a Hawk?
Hawks belong to a group of birds known as raptors, which includes eagles, ospreys, kites, falcons and owls. All raptors are predators. They use their excellent eyesight-much better than ours-to spot their prey, other birds, small mammals, fish, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, or carrion. Raptors catch prey with the sharp talons on their powerful feet and use their strong curved beaks to tear food apart. Some raptors, like American kestrel, eat a wide variety of animals, while others specialize in one type of prey. Ospreys eat mostly fish, making spectacular dives into the water in pursuit of their prey. Several adaptations make ospreys very good at catching fish: they can completely seal their
nostrils underwater and rough pads on their feet help them hold onto slippery fish.
Why do Hawks Migrate?
Like any predator: hawks and the raptors depend on an abundant supply of prey. In winter there isn't enough food to sustain many hawks. Some prey types like many small mammals, hibernate during the winter. Amphibians and reptiles are dormant, and takes many freeze over, preventing access to fish. Hawks head for warmer climates where they can find food.
How Do They Know Where to Go?
Birds can travel thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes. But how do they know where they're gong? We don't completely understand how birds navigate, but they probably use three main techniques to guide them: flying but the sun and stars, sensing Earth's magnetic fields and recognizing local landmarks. Some of the hawks that pass through Lighthouse Point Park are headed for the southeast United States. Others travel even farther to Central or South America.
"We don't completely understand how birds navigate, but they probably use three main techniques to guide them: flying but the sun and stars, sensing Earth's magnetic fields and recognizing local landmarks."
Right: Cooper's Hawk
Lighthouse Point Park
What Species Can You See?
The most frequently observed raptors at Lighthouse Point Park, include sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, ospreys northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels. Bald eagles show up consistently, although not in large numbers, and a few golden eagles also pass through each year. Check out the complete list of raptor species you might see here.
One of the most impressive migration sights at Lighthouse Point Park is that of a flock-or-kettle-of-broad-winged hawks flying overhead. These birds fly in groups that can number in the thousands. The kettles that pass through here are smaller, but grow larger as the birds travel south and others join them. Broad-winged hawks nest in Connecticut's forests, where they can hunt, for rodents insects, reptiles and other birds. They sit and wait for their prey then swoop down to catch it with their sharp talons. When the days begin to get cooler, broad-winged hawks head for warmer climates. Some of the birds that pass over lighthouse Point have flown down from Canada and still have a long way to go. Broad-winged hawks travel as far as South America, a distance of over 4,000 miles! During their migration they take advantage of rising air currents, called thermals, that form along the coast. Riding these currents saves them energy during their long journey.