Hawk count data from the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch are truly multifunctional and multipurpose.
Data from our regular watch sites are posted daily on HawkCount, the world’s largest hawk migration database. At HawkCount you can track the season at any Eastern Mass site or roughly 200 other hawk watch sites in North America, from Alaska to Panama. You can see complete seasonal reports for any EMHW site since 2002 on HawkCount, and learn more about the migration at each site. HawkCount’s Site Profile for each site provides a complete calendar of migration for each species seen at the site, including the top daily and seasonal totals for each species. The Eastern Mass Hawk Watch was established in 1976, with Wachusett data collected since then and Watatic data collected since 1987. The substantial data for years prior to 2002 have not been entered into and are not available on HawkCount.
Raptor Population Index (RPI)
HawkCount data is used by the Raptor Population Index to develop scientific analysis of the migration trends for raptor species. Using data from sites reporting according to RPI criteria, RPI prepares updated analyses of population trends for migratory raptors every two years, for use by state, provincial, and federal wildlife and environmental agencies, academic, and amateur researchers. (Visit rpi-project.org)
MassBird & BirdHawk
Daily EMHW reports posted to HawkCount are also distributed to MassBird, so that during migration season daily reports from each established site can be delivered directly to your email box. If you do not subscribe to MassBird (or even if you do) you can also subscribe to BirdHawk from HawkCount, which sends you the daily reports for all sites across North America.
NorthEast Hawk Watch (NEHW)
All EMHW migration data is also shared with the NorthEast Hawk Watch (NEHW), which takes our data from HawkCount and prepares an annual report on spring and fall migration through eight northeastern states (New England plus portions of New York and New Jersey). This report provides summary data for roughly fifty sites for up to 48 years, at a level of granular analysis not available anywhere else. NEHW charges $10 a year for membership to receive the annual report, which comes out each summer for the preceding calendar year. The northeast has the longest continuous history (since 1971) of any regional network of hawk watches anywhere in the world, so its report analyzes trends by species by site on a scale unlike anything else in the world.
EMHW publishes an annual newsletter in August, which includes a variety of articles and summary reports on each site for the previous twelve months. Data from any site covered only several times in a season will be reported in the newsletter, If coverage is more extensive, the location can be entered as a new site on HawkCount.
All EMHW data is also submitted to Bird Observer, the Massachusetts birding magazine of record.
How Our Data Are Used
Data is analyzed at many levels locally, regionally, and on a continental scale. There is much to be learned. Over the past forty+ years, we have documented a significant fall hawk migration, particularly through the central part of the state, the magnitude of which was not known prior to 1978, especially for Broad-winged Hawks. Data for the past 40 years indicate a significant increase in the number of Turkey Vultures, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Cooper’s Hawks, Merlins and Peregrine Falcons migrating through the region. We’ve also documented an apparent decline in the number of Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and American Kestrels migrating through the area. We’re learning more about what time of day and what weeks the various species of hawks tend to migrate, and which weather conditions are more favorable for migrating hawks and for hawk watchers. Over the past two decades we’ve also documented a recent decline in migrating Ospreys, Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Red-shouldered Hawks.
Spring migration through eastern Massachusetts is dramatically smaller (an order of magnitude) than the fall migration for several reasons. While there is the reasonable possibility of seeing a thousand or more hawks (primarily Broadwings) on a mid-September day, there are only 3-5 days when you might see more than one hundred migrating hawks anywhere in spring (primarily kestrels along the coast; Broadwings inland). You can look for hawks at Wachusett or Watatic in spring, but our two regularly covered spring watch sites are Pilgrim Heights in North Truro and Plum Island in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Currently our two coastal sites are the only coastal hawkwatch sites north of Maryland, providing unique views into the spring migration of several species. Perhaps surprisingly, the two coastal sites do not see the same birds.
Our migration watch sites also see a number of other creatures migrating, including numbers of hummingbirds, gulls, cormorants, geese and crows, not to mention butterflies, particularly Monarchs. There’s a lot to be seen while hawk watching, and much to be learned.
We encourage volunteers to commit to covering one of our established sites for one or more days each season, regardless of the weather, but also to help the team of watchers at any site whenever they can. It always helps to have a team of observers looking for migrants.
Our major spring sites and fall sites were not known until during the 1970s and 1980s we began hawk counts at dozens of sites in Massachusetts east of Quabbin Reservoir. We encouraged people to explore areas they knew or loved to learn if hawks migrated through those areas at certain times and under favorable weather conditions. As we identified major migratory sites, we focused more on increasing coverage at those sites than encouraging people to hawk watch from anywhere.
If you want to hawk watch on your own in a special location, we encourage you to do so. Who knows what you might discover? Craig Jackson established a fall watch at Pinnacle Rock in the Middlesex Fells in Malden. Coverage is limited in time and numbers, but Pinnacle offers the opportunity to see and learn more about migration close to home if your time or transportation is limited. Odds are that most undiscovered major fall sites are along a northeast-southwest axis running from the Newburyport area southwest into Connecticut because this is the basic course of Broadwings migrating in September. Much smaller but still significant migration sites might be found for accipiters and falcons along our coast.