If You Enjoy Watching Birds of Prey, Don't Miss Acadia National Park's HawkWatch

Visitors at the HawkWatch program.

Participants enjoying a previous year's HawkWatch. NPS Photo.

Whether you're a serious birder or just have a casual interest in watching birds of prey, the annual HawkWatch at Acadia National Park in Maine offers a prime opportunity. The 15th annual season begins on August 19 and runs through October 14, weather permitting.

The opportunity to see birds of prey—including falcons, hawks, ospreys and eagles—often involves stealth, patience and oftentimes travel to an isolated location, not to mention a good dose of luck.

There's never a guarantee when it comes to spotting any bird in the wild, but your odds of success in spotting some of those magnificent larger species are certainly good at Acadia during this annual fall activity.

Park rangers and volunteers will be on hand from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily during the event to help visitors find and identify birds, and to provide natural history information on raptors and related topics. The site is located on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, 200 yards from the Cadillac summit parking lot. If you aren't familiar with the area, you'll find maps and driving directions to Acadia on the park's website.

Why is this such a great location and time of year for raptor-watching? A park publication explains:

Every year, strong northerly winds push thousands of raptors from Maine and Canada south along the eastern coastline as they migrate to warmer areas for the winter. With its wide-open views and tallest vantage point on the eastern U.S. coast, Acadia's HawkWatch location on Cadillac Mountain often provides visitors with a close look at the soaring raptors. Each year, program participants see large numbers of sharp-shinned hawks and American kestrels, while many other raptors pass along with them.

Although results vary from day to day, and weather is always a factor, a summary from last year's HawkWatch season can provide an idea of what to expect.

The day with the highest number of sightings usually occurs in mid to late September, but last year that peak was on October 6, when 235 birds were spotted. Each year normally offers several 100+ sighting days, and 2008 brought several record totals for the whole season, including peregrine falcons (35), osprey (230), and merlin (99).

Numbers seen on Cadillac Mountain vary greatly, depending on weather patterns. Clearing days with northerly winds after the passage of a cold front are often particularly productive. About 2,500 raptors are sighted at the HawkWatch annually. Residents of neighboring communities are encouraged to visit often and become part of the cadre of “regulars” who contribute greatly to the overall count. This event provides rewarding memories and allows everyone in the family to participate in the thrill of spotting birds of prey and learning about raptor migration.

Daily hawk counts will be posted in the park at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Sieur de Monts Nature Center, Park Headquarters, and Cadillac Summit Center. For further information, including visiting with a large group or school group, or volunteering, contact Lora Haller at 207-288-8810 or .

Additional information about HawkWatch, including season totals, is available on the park website.

If you're interested in watching raptors, but can't make it to Acadia this fall, the park also offers some nice downloadable spotting aids, including Silhouettes and identification tips and Silhouettes only.


I highly recommend this. Lora is a good friend of mine and is the person who got me into birding. She is a great ranger and is very knowledgeable. You'll have a great time!

Ranger Holly

I think we ran into Lora in Acadia in June. We were making one last drive around the loop before leaving the park and noticed a ranger setting up spotting scopes near the Precipice trailhead. Turns out she was doing a presentation on the peregrine falcons that nest on the Precipice cliffs. We got to see a juvenile perched for a while and a female flying around. I know I asked the ranger's name and Lora sounds familiar. Regardless, the ranger was awesome and a wealth of information. It was a wonderful and serendipitous experience!