Hawks Use Bitterroot Skies to Migrate
For the next few weeks, look for lots of hawks in the sky. Studies at the MPG Ranch on the north end of the Bitterroot Valley have shown that 17 species of hawks are using the valley as a migration route in the fall. The main time for the southbound birds is late September into early October, according to Bob Danley of KLYQ's Bitterroot Outdoor Journal. How many birds? He reports that the MPG Ranch counted over 5,000 birds in 2013 and that included a day when over 980 hawks were recorded, flying both high in the sky and at lower elevations. You can see those lower elevation birds, mainly between 12 noon and 4 p.m., when the warm temperatures create thermal winds for the hawks to use.
The top five species in 2014, Danley said, were Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel and Cooper's Hawk. You can see the flights from ridgetops and from the valley floor. Bald eagles can be seen, too. Danley provided two photos of the Red-tailed Hawk (see photos above and below), which is very white underneath with a dark belly band of feathers and dark feathers forming a "comma" where the wing bends. The Bitterroot is one of four formal "watch sites" in the state, with hawk watching at Bridger Mountains, Rogers Pass (with many Golden Eagles), and the Jewel Basin site of the Flathead Audubon Society. You can hear Bob's report Thursday mornings on our Bitterroot Morning newscast about 7:45 a.m.