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Birding the Oklahoma Skies for Hawks

Updated on August 31, 2016
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Deb has degrees in chemistry, biology, and ornithology. Her primary focus is bird photography, & she researches heron behavior.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk | Source

Fall Migration for Hawks Begins as Early as July

The most exciting time of the year for people that love raptors is during fall migration, which starts earlier than any other fall bird migration. As a matter of fact, start thinking about it now, or you might just miss it. Some of our remarkable wonders begin their trek south in July and it can continue until early December. Naturally, it all depends upon where you are located in the country, and your choice of hawks, but if you look in the North American skies during any month of the year, you could well see kettles of hawks.

The secret is knowing where to look for these beautiful, streamlined and agile birds. The most important thing to keep in mind is the weather. Hawks rely on the thermals for an added lift during migration, as some of them travel thousands of miles on the air currents. You’ll want clear or partly cloudy skies, and in the spring, warm southern air flow triggers the largest movements, but this is not so in the fall, so expect the opposite. Migration calls when the cold fronts and northern winds are on the horizon, so start looking the day after a cold front. The best viewing times are between 8 a.m. and noon.

Mississippi Kite
Mississippi Kite | Source

Where to Go and How to Observe

The best places to go are high spots where you’ll be able to see the horizon with an unobstructed view of the sky. Normally, when one goes bird watching, they are directly in front of you, and you don’t always need binoculars. Not so with the raptor on the move, which is where the unobstructed view of the horizon enters the picture. Find those cumulus clouds and look just below them, and you’ll want to train your eye ahead of migration, so you know what you are looking for. Start with the vultures in the distance, which will tell you when thermals are going strong. Vultures are easy to see, because they are black. Even though they are not hawks, they will give you good practice.

As you observe these birds on your practice runs by looking high and seeing specks in the distance, you’ll have the ability to calibrate your eyes and fine-tune sight through your binoculars, while slowly sweeping the air. Once you locate that first hawk on the horizon doing sweeping circles, look for smaller ones near the original raptor that you saw. Birds trail one another much of the time, so there might be others riding the same thermals. Look in front of, as well as behind the first bird that you saw on those glides. Get the picture?

How Will I Know these Birds and Where and When to Go?

Where is the best place to go in Oklahoma for your hawkwatching when you have cracked the code and know how to find hawks gliding on the distant thermals? I’d have to say that Mount Scott in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a top spot. It is just northwest of Lawton, near I-44, less than 100 miles from Oklahoma City. It meets all the criteria for viewing and is not as crowded as Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, or Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota, and it is within easy reach.

What kinds of birds of prey might you see? Swainson’s Hawk is the most migratory hawk on the Great Plains in August and September. The Peregrine Falcon or Duck Hawk can be seen in July and August, feeding on birds taken on the wing. The Red-tailed Hawk or chicken hawk is a common resident as is the Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and American Kestrel. The Cooper’s is an uncommon transient, the Northern Goshawk is an irruptive and solitary, vagrant migrant. The Mississippi Kite, Rough-legged Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon and Merlin, can make themselves much more visible in the sky than closer to earth.

Where Is Mount Scott In Oklahoma?

How Will I Prepare for this Trip?

Early in the season, make sure that you have a kit with you that contains sunscreen and a hat with a brim. In the fall wear removable layers of clothing and a cap that covers your ears, as it will be cold and windy. For comfort, take along a lawn chair, and don’t forget those necessary binoculars. This is definitely a year for vagrants and rarities to come to our area. We have plenty of water and fish to supplement them, so this is a great chance to see more of the rarer species come to Oklahoma for stopovers. Other areas of interest, like the Great Salt Plains, Optima National Wildlife Refuge, and naturally, the Wichita Mountains will provide plenty of viewing pleasure during migratory times.

Keep your eyes on the clouds. Happy birding!

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle | Source
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk | Source
American Kestrel
American Kestrel | Source
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk | Source
Osprey
Osprey | Source
1st Summer Broad-winged Hawk at the end of August
1st Summer Broad-winged Hawk at the end of August | Source

© 2015 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 12 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      All right. Will take a gander now.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 12 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Chris, if you follow me on Google+, you'll see all my latest photos, and I just did a notation that hawk watch has just begun in my column. Birds are beginning to migrate, so you could catch a lot of god things, especially the Broad-winged Hawk, which is not usually very outgoing, but it is now.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 12 months ago from Maple City, Michigan

      I see this is an older hub you have updated, and I also see that I had commented on it before. Anyway, take a peek at my photos I took today at https://www.facebook.com/IndianaFlash. Not just birds. I got some gators too. :)

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 12 months ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Deb, as always, superb information and outstanding photos. I took my best ever photo of an osprey today. I'm spending the holiday weekend at Lake Eufaula, the Alabama one, not the one in Oklahoma. I've seen lots of hawks. Tomorrow I think I'll give up on fishing and do some birdwatching instead.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 12 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      It's just a matter of time before you see some, Norma. Things aren't in full swing yet, but will be very soon.

    • norlawrence profile image

      Norma Lawrence 12 months ago from California

      Great article and beautiful pictures. We have a few hawks around here or did have. Have not seen any lately. Thanks

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 17 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Alun! Thanks for taking a gander. Oklahoma really is an important bird area, as well have all types of terrain, except tundra.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 17 months ago from Essex, UK

      Some good, practical advice Deb on how to prepare for birdwatching hawks, and how to identify the key species in that part of the world. Very useful, and well photographed too. Alun

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad to hear that you're having plenty of birds in your area, teaches. Red-tailed Hawks begin getting active again around September, so do keep an eye pealed. It's always nice to see an eagle, as they are so majestic. This year, we have a resident eagle, who visits Boomer Lake quite often for fish.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      We had a red-tailed hawk visit us a few months back. He was beautiful to watch as he perched on our screen enclosure. A bald eagle flew low across our backyard the other day. I'm not sure that is normal for these big birds but we were thrilled to have seen it in flight.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, rdsparrowriter! So nice to see you, and I'm glad that yu like the birds, too. I don't know where we'd be without them.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      rdsparrowriter 2 years ago

      Very interesting and I told one of my friends also about your interesting articles about the birds... Great timing and awesome pictures :) Voted up awesome, interesting and useful :)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, lawrence! I knew that I could count on you!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Thats it. There has to be a hub on NZ birds!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Lawrence, it is a great sport. We can exchange birding information and maybe someday visit each other's country to meet the birds. The possibilities are endless. You should check out my pictures...http://debhirt.blogspot.com

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      I think you're slowly getting me interested in birdwatching!

      Loved the hub

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Nell! Sometimes they don't all appear in the same year, one must wait for them, so it takes a little while for those shots. There are still so many more around here that I can't even get yet.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      I love them, aren't they beautiful? your photos are amazing, and I noticed you said it took you a while to get them on camera, I can see why, they are so quick as our Red Kites are, wonderful as always, nell

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I'm so sorry that you lost your beautiful pets, Jackie. The chicken farmer a few doors down has been battling hawks as well as a Barred Owl. I recall the first time that I heard a thump on a customer's storm door to find a dead bird there. I was volunteering at Tri-State Bird Rescue, at the time, and was told that the likely culprit was a Cooper's Hawk. I buried the bird that was killed after flying into the storm door.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      The hawks are beautiful Deb but still on my bad list for killing my French hen and two of her three babies. It was my first experience with keeping anything like that and I thought I had them concealed and covered over well enough but one got into them and it was a horrible mess. I could keep my cat out but not a hawk! The sound woke me first thing in the morning and I only got there in time to save one!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Johan! It took several years to obtain those photos at Boomer Lake. It is a grand life, and I have so much to do to educate the world. I have only just begun.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 2 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Great article and good advice. Keep it up. Love your photos!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Mary! Thanks so much! I thought that this might help get OK on the map, as we have a LOT of birds in this part of the country.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Dave, of course you can. If you need anything else, let me know.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Your photos are breathtaking! We have red tails here and they can be seen gliding along in the summer months. Another helpful hub, deb. Good information for the fledgling bird watcher.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      vwriter, I have noticed that the rabbit population here has increased twofold, so your hawks could well have the same control problem.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks so much Dave, and of course you can use it.

    • vwriter profile image

      vwriter 2 years ago from US

      We usually have hawks flying overhead. The Red Tailed Hawks use to keep the rabbits population down. Not so this year. It is either that, or the rabbit population is greater than the Red Tailed Hawks we have in the area.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb.don't know if my first comment got posted. i share your love of raptors they are magnificent creatures. Your information on your migratory species as added to my general knowledge of your birds. may I use the image of the Red Shouldered Hawk {with acknowledgement} for my next hub {about Buzzards}? , it is a great shot as all your images are.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,I share your love of raptors they are truly magnificent birds. Great read as always and very informative of your migratory birds which added to my general knowledge of your species. May I use your picture of the red shouldered hawk {with acknowledgement} for my next hub which is Common Buzzard. It is a great shot as all your images are.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad to hear that you have been looking at birds, sgbrown. To me, they are a powerful respite and a great calming force. Let me know what you see on the horizon at Mount Scott, and when, especially. Throw sight at the wind and let your imagination run wild as those dots appear just under the clouds...

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 2 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Your pictures are truly wonderful! I have been to Mt. Scott once, it is a beautiful place! Hubby and I have been talking about going again soon. I see quite a few red tail hawks around our place, but have not been able to get a good picture of one yet! I really need a better lens, 70x300 just doesn't cut it. I also have Mississippi Kites come through here and have been able to get a fairly good shot of them.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Why, thank you, Frank. Birds of prey have an enormous draw for many people, perhaps he fact that they soar and glide, and epitomize true freedom, as such versatile creatures.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      what an educational fun share.. those birds of prey are amazing.. love the hub voted awesome

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Raptors are interesting, John, and they are very intelligent. They watch, and know when they are being watched, so they behave accordingly. They will be gone in a flash, and you will know that it is because you are watching them.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Chris, it is reported that most of the hawks are on the east coast, but that is not the only place that they have movement, naturally. Definitely watch those horizons from mountains, and let me know what you see and WHEN.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Faith Reaper, I had no idea that I was on Pinterest...definitely don't put me there and I will try to get rid of it again. You can share this anywhere else, though. Oh, hawks are everywhere, but they aren't always seen. Keep an eye out, and you will definitely notice one of these days. Enjoy the beauty of nature, and you will always smile...

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      very informative hub Deb, though I'll never get to Oklahoma. I loved the pictures a hawks and eagles (in fact all raptors) are among my favourite birds.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Deb, thanks for the information on hawk migration. I knew nothing about this pattern, but at least have a primer under my belt now. Not sure what I'll see out here in Oregon, but I'm spending a lot of time outside, so my eyes will be open and watching. Great photos of the Bald Eagle and the Red-shouldered Hawk.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, Deb, stunning and beautiful photos as always, and terrific information too. You always excel at your articles. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a hawk that close.

      Up ++++ tweeting and sharing ...oh, I see you have the pinterest button back, but do you want your pictures shared there? I won't share unless you say it is okay to pin it.

      Happy Birding

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      And perhaps, Mel, you'd like to get a glimpse of The Lady of the Lake...

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Once again beautiful pictures and great information. I have a lot of relatives living in Oklahoma, and going to visit them might be the excuse I need to go see the hawks. Great hub!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Any time, whonu. I like hawks, too.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Will, they conceivably COULD carry that pup off.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      Informative and beautiful pics. Hawks are my favorite bird and the Red Tail my all time fav. Nice work my friend. whonu

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      As Billybuc noted, we have to be wary of hawks here because we have a new Chihuahua puppy running around the back yard!

      I think these are red tailed hawks.

      Good Hub!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Sha! Thanks so much. I have wanted to do this story for quite a while now. I think everyone should get the chance to see what true freedom is all about, at least once.

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      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I love hawks. We have Red-Shouldered Hawks here. I love watching them ride the air currents. It seems they do it just to enjoy the day, like they're out joy-riding! They're so graceful.

      Your photos are amazing, Deb. What a thrill it must be to capture them so clearly when in flight! Outstanding!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, those hawks are interested in your chickens, all right. You should get some great photo opportunities. If you get a pic, I will ID it for you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't know what kind of hawks we have here, but they circle overhead almost daily, watching our chickens. :) One day a few months ago, one was sitting on our fence. Beautiful birds...great information, Deb!