Wings and the Wind

By Amy Renfranz (dearnaturalist@gmail.com)



Article Published: Aug. 30, 2012 | Modified: Aug. 30, 2012
Wings and the Wind

Every autumn, from September to November, hawks migrate south for winter, oftentimes
making ‘pit stops’ for rest and meals.
File photo by Rob Moore



Most people know that many creatures migrate south to survive the north’s harsh winters.

And for many people, witnessing migration is a yearly adventure. There is no other time in nature when so many of nature’s creatures are together, moving in one direction, too focused on their mission to even notice prying human eyes.

What comes to your mind when you read the word “migration?” Have you observed the awe-inspiring migration of the monarch butterfly? Have you listened to the honks of the Canada geese? Do you enjoy that time in November when you can immediately find a seat at your favorite restaurant in Blowing Rock?

My question this week came in from a Wilkes County farmer. The owner there has been experiencing an issue in migration.

I have to keep my hens cooped up for the entire months of September and October, or they get killed by hawks. Usually, the hawks are around in the morning when I wake up, but are gone by mid-day. What in the world is going on?

Well, my friend, it seems that your farm is a pit-stop on an annual migration. Every autumn, from September to November, hawks migrate south for the winter.

To most naturalists, the migration is known as the “hawk migration,” but eagles, ospreys, falcons and vultures can also be found in the mix. Sometimes, thousands of birds are observed in a single day of viewing.

The birds fly all day on the updrafts created from rising air coming out of the mountains. They ride these updrafts in circles, able to go thousands of feet into the air, traveling hundreds of miles south without a single beat of their wings.

The hawks are known to fly down at night, find a good tree to perch in, and sleep. You must have some cushy trees if this is a reoccurring problem. Think of your farm as an overnight hotel, and your chickens the continental breakfast.

I was able to witness the migration one year from the Mahogany Rock Overlook (MP 235) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In truth, the birds looked like tiny flecks of black pepper circling in the blue sky. Note to self: Next time, bring your good binoculars.

You, too, can take your binoculars, bird identification guide and reclining lawn chair to any number of parkway overlooks to observe the annual hawk migration. The best time of day is mid-afternoon, after the sun warms the air currents.

Three great and local spots to park your lawn chair are the Jumpin’ Off Rock Overlook (Milepost 260), the Thunderhill Overlook (Milepost 290) and the Grandfather Mountain area.

Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.

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