Adopt/Release a Hawk

By Susu Jeffrey

(Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota) She is three months old, with golden irises in her unblinking eyes. This female sharp-shinned hawk—“my” sharpshin, but I know better—is on her way to wintering in Central America. She was born in northern Minnesota or southern Canada, was just netted and banded and will be released in minutes.

Juvenile Female Sharp-shinned Hawk, Photo by David Smith, Grand Junction, Colorado


It’s Tuesday and Equinox eve, I just drove 165-miles through early fall color. Lake Superior is three shades of blue and I can feel a heart beat in my right hand holding the warm, three-month-old, female, golden-eyed, sharp-shinned hawk.

She eats song birds (sparrows, robins, chickadees, even blue jays) and occasionally dragonflies a staffer says. She catches her prey in a lightning strike with her talons, then perches somewhere to pluck the feathers and eat.

There are three staff members, plus a bird banding team, plus four volunteers, and an hourly count of passing raptors. She is one of nine sharpshins released today—so far.

She is soft, warm, a deep chocolate color. Dark, I’m told. “Unusual.” She is a beauty. I have never held a bird in my hand. She is about 14 inches long, my hand encloses her legs and lower body.

Hold her snug, I’m instructed. She is looking around, facing Lake Superior. She has a map in her brain which she inherited from her ancestors. I am told to stand like the Statue of Liberty and give her a little up-thrust on the count of three.

She’s free! Beak toward the south, she heads straight out without a dip. Northern Minnesota to say, Honduras—is about 3,500-miles. She weighs 5-7 ounces and might expect a 13-year lifespan. I will be notified as her “adopted” contact ($20 donation) if she is found and her band number reported.

Hawk Ridge is owned by the City of Duluth and will be staffed, daily, until the end of October. I did, of course, get a little bit lost but Hawk Ridge is just north of the City of Duluth, off Glenwood, on Skyline Parkway; you’ll see the parked cars.

The best weather for migrating raptors is sunshine and a northwest wind which funnels thousands and thousands of raptors along Lake Superior during the fall migration. I am not clear about whether the heartbeat in my hand was mine or her’s.

Info, map: www.hawkridge.org

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One thought on “Adopt/Release a Hawk

  1. Jude Kroutil says:

    Yes, Hawk Ridge is an awesome place to be for the fall migration. Some of our group (9P) go up there every year around Sept. 15th and make a weekend of it camping at one of the nearby State Parks. We take a picnic and hike to a ridge north of the public ridge/release site. The picnic ridge overlooks a beautiful valley with Lake Superior making a wonderful border on our right. If you are there on a perfect (weather) day you may see 10,000 + hawks. The largest I heard of was over 50,000 hawks in one day. Unfortunately I got there a day too late.
    The (Broadwing) Hawks form ‘Kettles’, groups of circling hawks that ride high up on the thermals so they can glide for hundreds of miles. Imagine a huge swarm of mosquitoes high over head, but instead of the blood suckers they’re hawks.
    Not only do they catch and band all the raptors (hawks, eagles and owls) they can but they also band passerines, like sparrows, finches and bluejays. In fact, flocks of bluejays pass thru with higher numbers than the hawks on some days.
    When you (adopt and) release any bird they take a picture of you holding it and one of you releasing it. I have taken some really nice pictures of people releasing the hawks and other tweety birds. This year I photographed a Northern Harrier Hawk being released. Very cool. I have also photographed Sharp-shinned Hawks (the most common caught), American Kestrels (I adopted one), Copper’s Hawks, and a Merlin. Besides those I have also seen Peregrine, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged, Rough-legged, Northern Goshawk, Gyrfalcon and of course Red-tailed hawks. Eagles, Ospreys and Turkey Vultures are also seen regularly. The Eagle migration is more in October and November.
    There can be a lot to see at Hawk Ridge. A wonderful place to visit.

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