Hawk Watch

Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch 2024

For more than 40 years, members of Audubon Society of Forsyth County have been observing the fall migration of Broad-winged Hawks and other raptors from Little Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry County. A few Broad-winged Hawks (or broadwings) breed locally but most nest in the forests of Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern United States. Each fall, they ride the thermals and mountain updrafts along the Appalachian ridges on their way to their winter grounds in Central and northern South America.

At Pilot Mountain, observers can see these birds and about a dozen other raptor species on their journey south. Sometimes, the birds pass by in small kettles or groups of 5, 10, 30 or so. Occasionally, the kettles include 100s or even 1000s of birds. Typically, 2000 – 5000 hawks fly by the mountain each fall. However, on one day in 1993 nearly 11,000 broadwings sailed by. In 2006, observers counted a single kettle of nearly 1800 birds.

Photo by Paul Neilson

Toby Gordon has been watching the hawk migration from Little Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain State Park for 25 years. He recounts how, on October 4, 1973, Ramona Snavely and members of Forsyth Audubon made a field trip to Pilot Mountain State Park. Pilot Mountain had just opened in 1968 as North Carolina’s fourteenth state park, so perhaps the group was checking to see what migrants might be present. While at the Little Pinnacle Overlook, the group saw something unexpected: a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks drifting southwest over the mountain.

According to Toby, Ramona recognized the importance of the sighting and returned in following years to study the raptor migration. Since that day in 1973 many people have shared their time and talent to support Pilot Mountain’s hawk watch, but Ramona Snavely started it all.

Osprey, Photo by Rob Rogers
Broad-winged hawk
Photo by Rob Rogers

Pilot Mountain State Park is one of about 200 sites that submit data to the Hawk Migration Association of North America, an “organization committed to the conservation of raptors through scientific study, enjoyment and appreciation of raptor migration”.

Thirteen species of raptors are seen regularly at Pilot Mountain. They include: Broad-winged Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawks, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture. Most migrating raptors are seen between mid-September and mid-October, with the peak of the Broad-winged Hawk migration usually occurring between September 20 and September 30. Look for clear cool days with winds out of the north. Visitors to the Little Pinnacle Overlook may also see resident Common Ravens as well as a variety of passerines – notably warblers and perhaps an occasional Red-headed Woodpecker.

  • Mahogany Rock – Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 235. Members of Blue Ridge Birders have been watching hawks for several years at this site just above Roaring Gap, NC.
  • Harvey’s Knob – Roanoke, Virginia, Blue Ridge Parkway between Mileposts 94 and 95.


Guidelines for Hawk Watch at Pilot Mountain by Toby Gordon
The Influence of Weather Conditions on Hawk Migration at Pilot Mountain State Park, N.C., 1982, Ramona R. Snavely Observation data for Pilot Mountain and other Hawk Watch sites: http://www.hawkcount.org
General and species-specific information about hawk migration in North America: http://www.hmana.org
Hawk migration learning resources and Raptor ID Quiz: http://www.hawkmountain.org