Each September, as weather patterns change, thousands of eagles, hawks, falcons and other raptors begin their slow leisurely migration south along the ridge tops and along the eastern seaboard.
Using the upsloping northerly winds hitting the north and west sides of the Appalachians, hawks migrate south along the mountains of Virginia using only minimal energy for flight. The updraft created by cold fronts this time of year allows raptors to lazily glide from the northeast United States and Canada south to the Gulf Coast.
Juveniles of many species also use the coast line as a visual cue for migration. Many follow large flocks of songbirds along the coast hunting as they migrate to maintain energy levels.
This migration is counted every autumn by a large cadre of volunteers who staff hawk watching stations from late August into early December. These data are collected and over time can indicate changes in raptor populations.
Many people enjoy heading to Virginia's well known viewing sites to observe fall migration, especially witnessing the kettles of broad-wing hawks that may number in the thousands. Included among the most popular sites are Snicker's Gap, west of Leesburg, Rockfish Gap, north of Charlottesville, off of I-64, Harvey's Knob overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Roanoke, and Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore. Raptor migration begins in late August, peaks in late September and continues through mid to late October. The Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch Station will celebrate its 30th Anniversary on September 23, 2006.
If you would like to know more about hawk watching and raptor migration, visit the Hawk Migration Association of North America Web site.