Derby Hill has been an important hawk-watching site for over 40 years--its elevated position along Lake Ontario's southeastern shore makes it the perfect spot to observe high-flying raptors heading north. These birds will not cross Lake Ontario during their migration, because they depend on currents of heated air rising off land heated by the sun, known as "thermals." Riding these thermals allows raptors to conserve energy during their long flight north. Derby Hill is one of a number of sites that keeps careful track of how many hawks are sighted each year--since 1979, a full-time counter has been employed by the Onondaga Audubon Society each spring to observe and tally the returning raptors. This spring, visitors to Derby Hill are likely to meet Seth Cutright, a Wisconsin native who is serving as this year's counter. The data he collects is entered into a database maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). The counts can be found online, with both monthly summaries for this year as well as daily reports, by clicking here.
The Derby Hill Bird Observatory is free and open to the public, and is located at 36 Grand View Ave in Mexico, NY. Directions can be found here. If you come, be sure to bring your binoculars. A helpful guide illustrating some of the important features of the many raptors that may be seen, as well as silhouettes that will help identify hawks flying high over head, is provided online by HMANA and can be found here. The number and variety of birds seen each day is dependent on a number of conditions; although some raptors will likely be seen most days throughout April that are free of rain and unusually cold weather, in general the best days to come are on warm, partly cloudy days with wind coming from the south. Mid to late April is truly the peak of the spring hawk migration season; some days may see thousands of raptors passing overhead, including many Broad-winged Hawks that often arrive in great numbers. For more information about Derby Hill and the spring hawk migration, visit the Derby Hill Bird Observatory website at http://www.derbyhill.org/.