The Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory located in Duluth Minnesota provides some of the finest hawk observation opportunities in all of North America. On average it's estimated that over 94,000 raptors travel through or around Hawk Ridge from the mid- August through the end of November every year. The observatory is dedicated to the protection of birds of prey and other birds migrating through the Western Lake Superior Territory. The efforts of the observatory to achieve this goal are accomplished through education of the public, research of the raptors and their habits, and stewardship.
Visitors are welcome year round, but the period of mid-August continuing through November is considered to be the peak period for raptor observation. The middle of September can often reward the observant birder with sightings of thousands even tens of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks. During October it's fairly common to see Golden and Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Rough-legged Hawks. During this busy period Naturalists are typically on location to answer questions and help the novice bird watcher with identification of the various raptor species.
Raptors typically don't begin flying until after 8am or 9am. The middle of the day presents the best opportunity to observe the diverse raptor species. This is contrary to the activities of most other wildlife which occur primarily in the very early hours or just before nightfall. Sightings usually tend to taper off after 4pm. Weather and wind direction usually play a role in the amount of flight activity taking place on any given day. Although there is never a guarantee, winds from the northwest or westerly direction usually indicate a higher number of bird sightings.
Visitors are strongly advised to bring a good pair of binoculars to make their viewing more enjoyable and to assist them in quickly identifying the various species soaring overhead. The staff of the observatory have binocular to loan visitors, but on busy periods there often are not enough to supply everyone. Like any other outdoor activity the weather can change rapidly especially at higher altitudes. Guests of the observatory should bring warm clothing, preferably wind and rain resistant. Sunscreen and a brimmed hat help with protection from the Sun. Beverages and snacks will also help making the visitor more comfortable. A folding chair can often come in extremely handy during extended viewing periods. Hiking is available on the Hawk Ridge trail. Some of the terrain is fairly uneven, so good hiking boots or tennis shoes are recommended.
Hawk Ridge encourages pet owners to leave their dogs at home when they visit the observation area. This is particularly important during weekends when visitor traffic can often be heavy.
There are food vendors on sight every weekend from mid-September through mid-October offering a variety of food and beverages. Portable bathroom facilities are also located on the observatory grounds during the fall migration season.
There is no charge of visiting Hawk Ridge. Adequate parking is usually available in the large parking area. Additional parking for recreational vehicles and buses is located about a mile past the overlook.
Be sure to bring the telephoto lenses for your camera. Without some specialized equipment the subject raptors will often only appear as dots in the sky. On occasion, however, the lucky observer on the overlook will be rewarded by a large raptor floating by at eye level.
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