Utah Stories

The Rapture of Raptors

HawkWatch International monitors raptors and educates to preserve.


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All photos by Mike Shaw

Hawkwatch International is an organization that “counts, bands, gawks at, gauges, and gathers data,” on many species of raptors, including hawks, eagles and vultures in order to help preserve these magnificent birds.

Founder Steve Hoffman began HWI in 1986 when he started making his way up mountainsides to monitor the habits of raptors as they migrated. In just a couple of weeks, raptors can travel thousands of miles. Nearly thirty years later, in 2015, HWI celebrated the Second Annual International Hawk Migration Week in partnership with the Hawk Migration Association of North America, during which time, over 1.3 million migrating hawks, eagles and vultures at 100 sites in the United States, Canada and Mexico, were tallied.

The mission of HWI is to, “conserve our environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors as indicators of ecosystem health.”

A program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is a natural pest control program using winter raptors; those raptors who congregate in places where competition around nesting sites is minimal. This program creates a win/win situation for all involved — the raptor, because food is readily available — and the farmer, because this holistic approach is safer and more ecologically friendly than other methods.

_MG_1430HWI Senior Scientist, Dave Oleyar, explains, “Two of the groups that typically benefit the most from the Integrated Pest Management program are local farmers and orchard managers. We place nest boxes for both owls and American kestrels (small falcons) by hanging them in open areas with perches. They have to be the right height and, in time, birds will take up residence. We provide the habitat for them to nest and breed in. One to two barn owls can have between seven and eleven young owls to feed, so this is great for for farmers and orchard managers who need some form of pest control.”

HWI is an active group where volunteers are welcome to assist in their Citizen Science program that supports research, or their Bird Docent group that takes raptor ambassadors out into the community to spread awareness and conservation, or their Seasonal Field Workers who assist in the spring and fall.

Also part of HWI are their special events, such as Wings Across the West and the Celebration of Flight.

Hawkwatching is also quite popular, where raptor identification and the ecology of migration are explored. “Raptor migration is one of the greatest spectacles on earth and witnessing a big raptor flight is an experience of a lifetime!” says Jerry Ligouri, HWI educator._MG_8851 - Version 2

Author Robert Lynd once said, “In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”

Hawkwatch International’s Salt Lake headquarters are at 9th East and 2240 South. For more information on Hawkwatch International, visit hawkwatch.org.


The photos in our print edition were taken by Jerry Liguori. We’d like to extend a special  thank you to him for his stunning images.

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