More bald eagles and turkey vultures in the skies near Saint Andrews

A broad-winged hawk, the most numerous hawk species in the region, photographed over Greenlaw Mountain. (Submitted by Hank Scarth - image credit)
A broad-winged hawk, the most numerous hawk species in the region, photographed over Greenlaw Mountain. (Submitted by Hank Scarth - image credit)

Some species of predatory birds are growing in number, while others continue to decline, according to latest findings of the Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch.

Greenlaw Mountain is near Saint Andrews, N.B., and on a major migration path for many species of birds.

Each fall, people watch the skies over the mountain, recording as many raptor species as possible.

The 2022 migration count is in and Todd Watts, the official counter and founder of the Hawk Watch, says some species, such as bald eagles and turkey vultures, have a growing presence in the region while the sharp-shinned hawk, and other smaller species, are in noticeable decline.

Steven Webb/CBC
Steven Webb/CBC

The Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch was founded in 2009 and it is a project of the Saint John Naturalists' Club, with a focus on recording the fall raptor migration.

"They're at the top of the food chain," said Watts, speaking to Information Morning Saint John. "So birds of prey can be really good bio-indicators and give us some clue as to the health of various ecosystems."

Watts credits recent conservation efforts for the growth in the number of bald eagles, while turkey vultures are becoming more common for other reasons, with 450 turkey vultures recorded in fall 2022.

"They're likely responding to climate change and greater availability of carrion," said Watts. "They eat dead things and unfortunately we have a lot of dead things on our roadways these days."

Watts said the vultures, such as turkey vultures and black vultures, are a little different than birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and falcons, but they have enough similarities they are also counted and observed.

Submitted by Hank Scarth
Submitted by Hank Scarth

Black vultures are one of the most rare sightings for the group, said Watts. They have only seen two in 14 years, including one spotted in October.

Watts and a group of volunteers conducted their 2022 count over 44 days from Aug. 25 to Nov. 15. Data from the observations are then uploaded to the Hawk Migration Association of North America website, which is available to researchers and the public.

Their data also show various observation notes on weather conditions, wind speeds, and even non-raptor birds observed.

One of the most exciting parts of the watch, according to Watts, is the migration of the broad-winged hawks, which tend to migrate in large groups, forming "super flocks" that can number in the hundreds or thousands, all migrating together.

Steven Webb/CBC
Steven Webb/CBC

This year the Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch counted 3,325 broad-winged hawks on Sept. 17, 2022 alone, though that number is lower than the highest one-day number the previous year, which was 4,930 on Sept. 14, 2021.

Fourteen other species of raptors were recorded this year, including ospreys, peregrine falcons, and American kestrels.