Pink Fire Pointer Raptors heading north

Raptors heading north

It may be hard to believe with all of the snow still covering Connecticut and chilly temperatures dominating the landscape but raptors are on the move to the north already. This is usually a good time of year to spot some early falcons showing up again. I typically find an American Kestrel or a Merlin hunting the coastline at places like Stratford Point, Long Beach, Sikorsky Airport, or Milford Point. I have been unsuccessful when it comes to them thus far in 2013, perhaps because of everything from bad luck to that still white groundcover.

However, just watching the skies while at home late in the afternoon last week put the thought of migration in my mind as I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over. Accipiters can spend the winter here in Connecticut, even some of the harsh ones, and are often be found by bird feeders. This bird was not a "local" though. How do I know that? It was acting like all of the migrants we see in the fall do, flying high in the sky hundreds of feet up. This action alone is exposing it to other potential raptors and passerines.

A much more typical sighting of a winter accipiter

Accipiters hunting or staking out a certain area aren't going to be soaring at high altitudes like large Red-tailed Hawks. Accipiters are built for zipping through the forest. It was also flying in a pattern to try to catch dying thermals after a sunny and relatively warm enough day with a southerly flow. It would rotate up and soar as best as it could, flap hard several times and then conserve as much energy as possible. It moved rapidly to the north-northeast and out of sight.

If you visit you will see that a bunch of hawk watch sites are already conducting some "spring" monitoring. Most of them are concentrated to our south in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and so forth, but sites closer to Connecticut will be up and running soon. Other species are already moving on to breeding activity here in Connecticut. As has been discussed a lot lately on the CT Birds list serv Red-shouldered Hawks have been very active from backyard feeding sightings to mating birds being discovered already. Unfortunately while we benefit from Connecticut's geography in the fall it hurts our potential raptor migration observations in the spring. There may not be a hotspot to visit but you can still see plenty even if you are watching the sky in your own yard.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission