Counting our migrating raptors
Denver Field Ornithologists supports and cooperates with HMANA (Hawk Migration Association of North America), a national volunteer organization to count migrating hawks, eagles, falcons and other raptors each spring and fall.
This vital citizen-science project not only tallies bird numbers — it also teaches participants how to identify these magnificent birds of prey and note their behavioral traits. Birders of all skill levels are welcome to participate.
Our Hawk Watch site is Dinosaur Ridge, an iconic segment of the Dakota Hogback geological formation west of Denver along the base of the Rocky Mountains. Renowned for its 19th and 20th-century fossil discoveries, the ridge also is an open window on the seasonal movement of raptors through Colorado. The birds migrate along the Front Range of the Rockies in part because mountain updrafts assist in their long journeys.
Hawk Watch typically begins March 1 and runs through the first week of May, with daily observation periods from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Peak migration usually falls in mid-April.
Unlike typical birding outings where people walk, hike or drive to the birds, HawkWatch volunteers scan the sky from this stationary location. Binoculars are a must, and cameras and spotting scopes are also helpful. Each Hawk Watch day, one volunteer is designated as the official counter. The other volunteers help spot the birds and work with the counter to identify them.
The daily effort can be challenging. The watch site is a steep half-mile hike from the parking lot, and the weather and wind can quickly and constantly change. On occasion, the team may be “snowed out.” But the rewards of identifying and recording the passage of migrant raptors are rich.
Access to the Hawk Watch site atop Dinosaur Ridge begins at the Stegosaurus parking lot off Interstate 70 and Jefferson County Road 93. The lot is at the southeast corner of Exit 259 from the freeway. Take the trail leading upslope from the southeast corner of the parking lot, then proceed south along Dinosaur Ridge to the ridge top. The Hawk Watch site is to the left of the trail.