Hawk Migration


Beginning in Autumn, thousands of hawks commence a southward migration in search of milder climate and more plentiful prey. Along a route that for some raptors may extend from Canada to South America, the Marin Headlands (specifically, “Hawk Hill”) is well known as an excellent location to observe this migration. For 25 years, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO) group of volunteers has been tabulating the annual fall migration of birds of prey. GGRO commences their count in mid-August each year. Check out their website and the “Daily Hawk Count” for current reports ( Even on a “slow” day, the GGRO Hawkwatch team has counted 155 raptors at the rate of about 26/hour!

Hawks are visual navigators that prefer to fly over land, often times following the coastline. So it’s not too surprising that hawks are frequently spotted riding the strong winds along the rugged San Francisco and San Mateo coasts. And where there are open fields, opportunities to observe hawks hunting can be almost a sure thing. Who hasn’t seen one of these large birds of prey (up to 3 lbs.) perched along a highway? One of my favorite locations for raptors is Half Moon Bay –specifically in the open fields of Bluff Top Coastal Park and at Wavecrest Open Space and the adjoining northwest area of Wavecrest Rd. /Hwy. 1. During the last four months of the year, it would be difficult not to find hawks in these areas. A good pair of binoculars can be a big help when it comes to studying these birds in detail.


Last year (2009), opportunities to observe and photograph red-tail hawks at Bluff Top were especially good following a vole irruption. I visited this area numerous times in November and was rewarded with many good photo ops. This year, I started looking for raptor activity at Bluff Top on Sept. 1st and plan to visit these sites regularly through at least the end of the year. So I hope to be able to update this site with new images. Meanwhile, I’ve updated my Avian/Raptor gallery to include a number of hawk photos captured late last year. All of my raptor photographs are of wild animals and were typically taken using a telephoto lens in the range of 400mm to 800mm. Follow the link below to see a gallery of various raptors I have photographed in the S.F. Bay Area, including many from Half Moon Bay.

Hawks that can be observed during the migration include:

• Red-tailed Hawk

• Sharp-shinned Hawk

• American Kestrel

• Cooper’s Hawk

• Turkey Vulture

• Red-shouldered Hawk

• Peregrine Falcon

• Merlin

• Northern Harrier

• White-tailed Kite

• Ferruginous Hawk

• Swainson’s Hawk

• Golden Eagle