April eBirder of the Month Challenge

By Team eBird April 1, 2015

Common (Steppe) Buzzards are abundant in Eilat, Israel during April

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on diurnal raptors. In many regions worldwide, April brings a stream of migrating raptors to the skies overhead – sometimes in massive numbers in locations like Braddock Bay, New York, Veracruz, Mexico, and Eilat, Israel. To further our understanding of the patterns of raptor migrations worldwide, the challenge this month involves submitting checklists with diurnal raptors on them. We define diurnal raptors as any species listed under the “Vultures, Hawks, and Allies” or the “Falcons and Caracaras” subheadings in your eBird checklist (Orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes). The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit at least 20 complete checklists that contain one or more species of diurnal raptor. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

eBird recognizes 317 species of diurnal raptors and many of these are migrating during April. In some places, these migrations can be jaw-dropping, and comprise some of the greatest migration spectacles in the world. In general, raptors prefer to migrate over land, making use of the thermals of warm air that rise off of land during the daylight hours. As a result, large bodies of water are generally avoided – causing certain peninsulas and points of land to concentrate large numbers of raptors and other soaring birds.

In the United States, Texas often has spectacular flights of raptors that are just finishing their journey through Central America, following the contours of the Gulf of Mexico. Species that tend to move here in large numbers include Turkey Vulture, Mississippi Kite, Swainson’s Hawk, and Broad-winged Hawk. At locations like Braddock Bay, NY, in the northeastern US, Broad-winged Hawks arrive later in the month, but can still be seen in the tens of thousands!

Migrating Swainson's Hawk, California, April. Photograph by Brian Sullivan.

Migrating Swainson’s Hawk, California, April. Photograph by Brian Sullivan.

Further south, certain parts of Mexico and Central America can have spectacular numbers of raptors in both spring and fall. The species are much the same as those seen the southern United States, but here the river of migrating birds is more by topographic features, resulting in even more massive concentrations. Fall tends to be the best time for seeing hundreds of thousands of Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks, but spring can also bring some fair numbers in Veracruz, Mexico, and various locations in Panama.

In Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea acts as a large barrier to these thermal-loving migrants, resulting in notable migrations at both the western and eastern sides of the sea. At the western edge, the tip of southern Spain around Tarifa and nearby Gibraltar are known as exemplary locations to see visible migration, where you can even see the birds coming over the water from Africa. The eastern edge of the Mediterranean has two well-known hawkwatch areas, the Eilat region of Israel, and the narrow landbridge upon which Istanbul is situated, in Turkey. Eilat has thousands of Steppe Eagles that pass through earlier in the season, in March, and April features thousands of Common (Steppe) Buzzards and Levant Sparrowhawks, in addition to other species like European Honey-Buzzard and Black Kite. By the time that these birds reach Istanbul, they have spread out more, so overall numbers may not be as high, but some species like Lesser Spotted Eagle can be seen in impressive numbers! Of course, other species are often seen while hawkwatching such as the magnificent Black Stork.

Steppe Buzzards and Black Stork

In East Asia, Taiwan can have some fantastic movements of raptors, with an estimated ~200,000 individuals of diurnal raptors passing through annually –the majority being Chinese Sparrowhawk and Gray-faced Buzzard. This flow of raptors helps make Taiwan of the most important migratory stopovers in the region. During the northbound migration in spring, hawk watchers gather on Guan Yin Mountain in Northern Taiwan to count the raptors before they head out to the ocean.

The locations listed above are merely a sampling of the best locations to see raptors across the globe, and we are sure that you can find some places of your own near you! If you are outside, keep your eyes to the sky, and you never know what you will see!

Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular.

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen,  President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Find out more:

eBirder of the Month