Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where are all the hawkwatchers?

As HMANA’s Monitoring Site Coordinator, I reach out to a lot of hawkwatch sites across North America. One of the things I enjoy most is checking in with sites and talking to folks about how their seasons went, hearing stories and highlights, as well as changes they’ve seen in raptor populations or movements over the years. One thing is for sure – each site is unique, with its own system of operation, its own methodology, its own nicknames for landmarks, and of course, its own quirky crew of dedicated counters.
Some sites have paid staff counting fixed hours while others may only have coverage on weekends, big days, or during broad-winged hawk season. There are sites run by universities, middle schools, non-profit organizations, bird clubs and state parks, to name just a few.
Overall, the majority of sites are run by volunteers – dedicated people who just love to be outside each fall - watching migrants overhead, and perhaps passing on an appreciation of raptors to others.

These volunteers are what make HMANA and the HawkCount Network strong. However, HMAMA is concerned as more and more sites with long term data sets slip off the map due to the lack of staffing and volunteer presence at sites. Watchsite coordinators throughout the country have been reporting that they “just don’t have enough volunteers”. People are busy and many just don’t have the time to donate to hawkwatching. In some cases we are seeing the older generation, who may have initiated sites in the 1970’s and 1980’s, unable to continue counting and having difficulty finding people to pass the torch on to.

Where are all the new and upcoming hawkwatchers? It’s difficult for young budding biologists to accept counting positions with little or no compensation – and even if they do, what’s the incentive to keep them coming back year after year? Even though many sites are making huge strides in outreach and education, I feel we can do even more to engage the next generation of counters and make known the importance of raptor monitoring. It is clear that we need a resurgence of new blood in the hawkwatching community. This means reaching out to young people and getting them involved. Below are a few ways I feel we can do this:
· Partnering with local research and non-profit organizations
· Tapping into existing networks like local communities, outdoor/birding clubs or scout troops
· Contacting local universities and colleges
· Offering field trips to local sites
· Creating a welcoming atmosphere at hawkwatches

In my next post, I’ll go into detail regarding these efforts and how we can go about making connections to improve hawkwatch participation.

Please add your thoughts and ideas.


  1. From a younger paid Hawk Counter:

    To the groups who go with a paid hawk counter. Make sure you have lots of welcome and friendly people around to make the person counting feel welcome. Try your best to have a better or higher pay rate. Even think of it as a real job and not just a seasonal job. We have to put in long hours at times, and it is not just about counting hawks. It is about dealing with weather, dealing with people, runing the count, counting, IDing raptors, putting data in, and so on. It is not just counting birds. I think some times people forget about the other things that go into such a job. So higher pay will or should bring out more people who might like the chance to do the job in the first place. Then just be willing to reach out to them and welcome them the best you can be. Maybe try to find other reserach things they could get into before or after the season. Get them into some kind of naturalst job or area so they stay connected to the hawk count. Or at the very least let them know as soon as you know that a job counting is open and that they are either welcome back, or welcome to try for it...

  2. On why I come back...I get paid to count raptors by the way...why not come back? Have always loved raptors so this works out for me well. Wish the pay was better, or that it could lead to maybe a part time or full time job at a bird observatory or some place like that...But then again I come back because I like it, I like the people I get to meet at the counts, and I get to travel and see some really neat areas I would not most likely get to travel to and see. So that is why I come back..

  3. Seth: thanks for your comments. You are indeed lucky to both love hawks and get paid to watch and count them! Since you do get to talk with a lot of people who come to look at hawks, do you have any ideas about why volunteerism at hawkwatches is dropping off? And why "new people" don't seem to be developing an interest in hawkwatching?

    Carolyn H.