Identify: Raptors of Iowa
Autumn at Hitchcock Nature Center means the return of our annual HawkWatch. Every year from September through December a team of dedicated individuals take up residence on the observation tower here at the Nature Center to view and count migrating species of raptors. The thermal winds coming off the Missouri River Valley mean that Hitchcock is perfectly placed along a “hawk highway” traveled by over a dozen species every year. Visitors to the park are invited to join our volunteers and our seasonal hawk counter on the tower seven days a week to view these majestic creatures.
HawkWatch volunteers are trained to watch for migrating raptors and identify the species while the specimen is in flight. This can be quite a challenge with 18 species commonly spotted from the tower each year. Wing shape, silhouette, & color variation are all tools that are used to identify each species as it travels south past our tower. But you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the annual HawkWatch.
When observing raptors in flight you will need to look for three major characteristics:
Shape and size of the bird’s silhouette – Are the wings long or short? Is the tail wide or narrow?
Overall color and banding patterns – Does the bird have banding on the tails or a differently colored head?
Flight characteristics – How does the specimen soar and flap its wings?