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Cape May Hawk Watch, Fall 2003

The Cape May hawk count of 2003 was the 28th consecutive year of recording the raptor flight at the tip of the Cape May peninsula. The count began on September 1 and finished on November 30, and it was conducted by primary counter Jason Guerard and secondary counter Bob Diebold. Although the hawk count totals rebounded somewhat over the previous three seasons (45,196), they were still below average. Typically, Sharp-shinned Hawks and American Kestrels account for 65-70% of the raptors tallied, and while both rebounded from the very low totals of the last three seasons, they were still below par. Again, as in the previous three years, weather appeared to have some role in the low numbers. Cold fronts, especially in September and early October, were neither numerous nor did they yield persistent northwesterly winds. Teasing out the effects of weather patterns on hawk-count totals from actual changes in population is a challenge not yet fully met. However, the low totals for several species still appear to be reason for concern.

Although Osprey totals rebounded again somewhat, as they did in 2002, an unsettling trend is still evident. After peaking in 1996 with 6734 birds, the count has averaged about one-third of that total over each of the last five years. A low overall raptor count is almost always related to low Sharp-shined Hawk numbers, given that roughly half the birds counted at Cape May are Sharp-shinneds. The 20,665 birds counted in 2003, while an increase over the last three years,  is still below average. The American Kestrel total (7,345) was also an improvement over recent years, but kestrels continue to be a species of concern. There were four Swainson's Hawks registered, a nice total. Cooper's Hawk numbers continue a general upward trend. The Peregrine Falcon flight was strong.  It was another solid season for Bald Eagles with 178 counted.


Season's Totals - September 1, 2003 through November 30, 2003

Species

Season's Total

Peak Flight #

Peak Flight Date

Black Vulture

197

41

10/2

Turkey Vulture

1241

201

11/8

Osprey

1975

117

10/1

Bald Eagle

178

16

10/13

Northern Harrier

2421

137

10/6

Sharp-shinned Hawk

20665

2662

10/13

Cooper's Hawk

4260

570

10/13

Northern Goshawk

7

2

10/20

Red-shouldered Hawk

605

121

11/8

Broad-winged Hawk

1926

619

10/13

Swainson's Hawk

4

1

10/7, 20, 22 & 11/7

Red-tailed Hawk

1258

243

11/8

Rough-legged Hawk

6

2

11/8

Golden Eagle

9

3

11/8 & 9

American Kestrel

7345

1189

9/16

Merlin

1920

276

9/16

Peregrine

1024

118

10/06

Total

45196

4500

10/13

 


See a 30-year history of the Cape May Hawk Watch (PDF)


Learn more about the official Cape May Hawk Watch