A - Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, Princeton, MA
B - Mount Watatic, Ashburnham, MA
C - Pinnacle Rock, Middlesex Fells Reservation, Malden MA
D - Plum Island Hawk Watch, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport MA
E - Adams Fark Hawk Watch, Athol, MA
F - The Head of the Meadow Beach, North Truro, MA
Where should you go hawkwatching? Massachusetts birders are fortunate in having several excellent sites from which to choose. Two of the state’s premier fall hawkwatching sites are discussed in some detail below. Go to either of these locations in September, on a weekend in October and early November, or many weekdays in those months with a nice cold front, and you are likely to find another hawkwatcher or two. Additional pairs of eyes are quite valuable, and their experience might be helpful in identification.
Wachusett Mountain averages roughly 11,000 hawks a season since 1977. That total represents primarily September, as earlier and later coverage is less extensive and varies considerably from year to year. With more coverage in October and early November the average would be somewhat higher.
Mount Watatic averages 6,000 hawks a season since 1987. (Watatic numbers reflect more extensive coverage in the second half of the season until c. 2003.)
You need not go to a major site to see a good flight, however, especially in September. Massachusetts has many excellent but lesser known and infrequently covered hawk watch sites, one of which is briefly described below. Historically, people have also watching spring raptors at Wachusett (The Ledges), and Mt Watatic (sw viewpoint on Blueberry Ledge/Wapack trail). In the fall people have also hawk watched from Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Dunback Meadow in Lexington, and many other locations with a fairly clear horizon from northwest to northeast.
When you go hawkwatching, take clothing more than adequate to keep you warm. Always take a hat, gloves, and at least a light jacket. It can turn quite cold on windy, exposed hawkwatch sites. Also take adequate food and drink. If the hawks are flying, you won’t want to leave the site in pursuit of physical sustenance. It's also advisable to take binoculars (and a spotting scope if you have one), a compass, a notebook, and one or more friends with you. The more eyes the better. The compass will help you evaluate the view as well as determine flight directions. The notebook is for recording the numbers you count, the time you see each bird or kettle, and what you observe about the hawks, including questions you have about the birds you can’t identify.
Using your binoculars and scope, you should regularly scan the sky in all directions, including directly overhead and behind you. It's amazing how many hawks can pass by unnoticed, only to be seen flying away from you! However, most of them should be coming from the north and passing you. Because of the location and terrain, they might well be passing to your left or right when you’re facing north. Finally, you should take a field guide with you, so you can look up those questionable birds when things slow down. If you are a photographer, please take your camera. A 300 mm telephoto lens is the minimum; a 400 mm or zoom lens is recommended.
The five sites listed below are on HawkCount.org. Only official site coordinators are authorized to enter data directly onto HawkCount for those sites. If you want to hawk watch at another site, such as a familiar park or landmark, please record data in a notebook or on an EMHW field form. Prior to hawk watching, download a Hawk Migration Association (HMANA) Daily Report form and a separate instruction sheet from (You can also download an EMHW Daily Field Form from our site as well, recording your observations by individual bird/encounter, to help assemble the data for the daily report form.) The HMANA form shows you the weather and site parameters requested for data to be entered into HawkCount. Observers are asked to record parameters such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature (C), cloud cover, visibility, etc., hourly, along with the hawk count by species each hour. Transfer the data from your notebook at the end of the day onto the Daily Report Form (DRF) to mail to EMHW, or contact any EMHW site coordinator via email to submit your data via email. EMHW will report your data to HMANA.
Fall Hawkwatch Sites
Our two main spring coastal sites, Head of the Meadow Beach (formerly Pilgrim Heights) and Plum Island, average roughly 1,700 and 1,100 hawks apiece over 6-12 weeks of coverage. Coastal spring sites rarely see more than 200 in a day, but you tend to see the hawks very close, affording memorable views of individual birds flying at or below eye level. That is quite different from the fall migration, when Wachusett Mountain averages 11,000 hawks, the large majority of which are Broadwings. Fall inland sites can see as many as 10-20,000 hawks in a single day (9 times in 40+ years). Not so in spring. Also, good weather for migration can be quite different in spring. Plum Island does best with strong west or northwest winds most of the season, with strong southwest winds also being helpful in late April and early May. Head of the Meadow Beach does best on strong southwest winds that tend to push the migrants out onto Cape Cod.
The two spring sites see largely different species at different times. Plum is best in April. Head of the Meadow Beach is best largely in May. There is little if any duplication in birds. Head of the Meadow Beach’s most abundant migrants are Turkey Vultures, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and American Kestrels. It is also the best site to see the occasional, almost annual Mississippi Kite, often on strong hot SW winds at the end of May. Plum’s most abundant migrants are American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Merlins.