Do Hawks Migrate? The Great Journey

Migration is an event of animals’ seasonal movement in search of favorable survival conditions when they encounter harsh situations. Hawks may also experience cold winters, food scarcity, and intense inter-species or inter-species competition.

But do hawks migrate? Some species travel long distances to reach suitable locations, whereas some take short flights. Besides, some of the species of the southern region are more likely to stay in their region all year.

In this article, we will discuss some hawks’ facts regarding their migration. You will also learn how migration impacts their genetic diversity and conservation. Thus, tag along till the end.

Do Hawks Exhibit Migratory Behavior?

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Yes. But Hawks migratory behavior differs from their species. Some of their species like red-tailed, sharp-shinned, cooper’s hawk, etc, will travel long distances while migrating. Yet, some other species will remain at their place all year round.

Typically, the reason behind their migration is to take advantage of favorable environmental conditions and lesser competition. They also travel long distances to escape harsh weather and find abundant food sources.

Multiple factors generally influence their migratory behavior. Those factors are:

  • Food availability: They will migrate to places where foods are more readily available than their current habitats.
  • Seasonal changes: Hawks are quite sensitive to seasonal changes in temperature. That’s why when the temperature gets colder, they choose more favorable weather conditions for foraging and breeding.
  • Mating and breeding: For building their breeding territories they prefer forested areas, wetlands, or open grassland. That’s why, during the breeding season, they will tend to attract towards those regions.
  • Wind conditions: In weak wind conditions, they will fly high over any lake. Yet, when the wind is strong, they like to fly at a lower altitude to minimize energy expenditure.
  • Habitats change: Loss of appropriate habitats or disruption of key stopover sites will negatively affect their migration. This will affect their ability to complete their journey.

What Factors Trigger Hawk Migration?

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A few environmental factors and hawks’ instinctual behavior will primarily trigger their translocation. Let’s know about them in detail:

Seasonal Changes And Hawk Migration

Hawks are strongly sensitive to seasonal changes such as day length, weather patterns, and temperature variations. When the season starts to change, they can sense that and start to look for more suitable weather conditions.

For example, in the Northern Hemisphere, the temperatures will also drop when winter approaches. During this period, they will migrate to regions with warmer temperatures. After that, in spring, when the temperature of the northern region rises again, they will travel back to their places.

Food Availability And Migration

Generally, this predatory bird is a carnivore and depends on small reptiles, mammals, or birds for food. During the winter days, if these primary food sources become scarce, there will be intense competition among the predatory birds.

Typically, they are diurnal and hunt during day hours. But do hawks hunt at night? They can’t hunt in total nights but are active hunters in lowlight conditions. Thus, you may find hawks hunting at night during food scarcity.

Yet, this will make them competitors of other nocturnal predators. That’s why for survival, they choose to move to another place where food is abundant and competitions are lesser.

Mating and Breeding Influences On Migration

Primarily, they travel to places where there are suitable breeding sites. They choose places that provide potential and appropriate nesting sites.

Often you may notice that their migration period synchronizes with hawks’ breeding period.  Thus, they can reach their migration ground in time and can show their courtship display.

After attracting mates, mating, and reproducing, male members will most likely return to their habitats. They generally engage in rebuilding their nests. Yet, the female members will most likely stay there to care for the offspring.

How Do Different Species Of Hawks Approach Migration?

As we mentioned, you will see only some hawk species migrating. Some species are migratory, whereas some are non-migratory. Let’s see how they approach their migration:

Comparison Of Migratory Behavior Among Hawk Species

Let’s see a comparison of migratory behavior among hawk species:

CriteriaMigratory hawk speciesNon-migratory hawk species
MovementThey will migrate from one region to another in search of better environmental conditionsWill remain in the same region throughout the year
AbilityCan fly for long hours nonstopHas proficiency in hunting and defending themselves
WingspansLargerRelatively smaller
Body weightLighterHeavier
Flying higher altitudesDue to their large lung and heart, they can efficiently fly at higher altitudesTougher for them to fly in higher altitudes with smaller heart and lung

Thus, due to the physical conditions, migratory birds can fly longer distances and at higher altitudes than non-migratory species. Contrarily, non-migratory ones are more adaptive to the weather conditions and tend to stay in their natural habitats.

Notable Migratory Hawk Species

There are several notable migratory hawk species around the world. Here are some of them:

  • Red-tailed Hawk: You will find this species throughout North America. During winter, some of them will travel to areas like Mexico and even Central America.

    Yet, some in the central U.S. won’t travel and will stay in the same region throughout the year. Hawk identification is easy in its case due to its broad wings and red tail feathers.

    With their broad wings, they can travel around 1500 km in search of prey.
  • Broad-winged Hawk: This species can cover up to 64 km in every hour. By watching them, you will get the answer of whether hawks fly in groups.

    Generally, this species will fly, creating a large flock of thousands of individuals while migrating. But what is a group of hawks called? You can call them kettles and will find them translocating South and Central America.
  • Swainson’s Hawk: They generally travel from North America towards South America. In a round-trip migration, they can travel up to 12,000 miles. Yet, their migration towards the north will be 25% faster than their migration towards the South.
  • Sharp-shinned hawks: Though they migrate, they take shorter flights. You will notice them traveling to the Southern US during the fall and returning to their place in spring.

Non-Migratory Hawk Species

Here are a few examples of non-migratory hawk species:

  • Harris’s Hawk: You will find this species in the Central and South America range. Due to the favorable year-round climate, they won’t migrate and will hold up their solitary habitat throughout the year.
  • Northern-goshawk: Most of the individuals of this species remain in the same region throughout the year. Yet, some may travel a short distance during the winter season.
  • Gray Hawk: They are native species of Central and Northern America. A few of them take short-distance flights, and most of them are non-migratory.

What Are The Main Routes For Hawk Migration?

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The migration route generally varies with the geography and hawk species. According to the visual observation, radar, or satellite tracking reports, their migratory routes include:

  • The Central Flyway
  • The pacific Flyway
  • The Atlantic Flyway
  • The East Asian Flyway
  • The Caribbean Flyway
  • The Mississippi Flyway

Challenges Faced During Migration

Here are some of the challenges they may encounter while migrating:

  • Weather Conditions: During their travel, they can encounter storms, strong winds, or extreme temperatures. This may slow down their speed and can even risk their survival.
  • Food Scarcity: Hawks sometimes may end up in a place where food sources are scarce due to deforestation or climate change. This may reduce their chance of survival.
  • Predation: They can encounter attacks from other large predators like eagles while traveling. Sometimes, humans also hunt them during their resting periods.
  • Collisions: While migrating, they can collide with moving vehicles or turbines and get severe injury. Also, you might have seen incidents like electrocution when migrating birds stop over high-voltage power lines.

Impact Of Geographic Features On Migration Routes

Here are some ways in which geographic features impact migration routes:

  • Some small species may avoid mountain paths as it requires flying over steep slopes and high altitudes. They will choose valleys around the mountain in this case. But some larger species will use their thermal updraft to soar efficiently along the mountain ridges.
  • Hawks tend to avoid long-distance water paths in terms of conserving energy. Instead, you may find them taking the path of coastlines.
  • They follow migratory corridors aligned with forests, wetlands, and grasslands as these provide adequate food sources and potential habitats.
  • Following the urban area’s path can provide both advantages and risks. They can get artificial perching, resting sites, and available food sources. But they can also collide with vehicles or manmade structures.

How Do Hawks Navigate During Migration?

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Hawks will employ several strategies to navigate during their migration. Here are three key strategies that they follow for navigation purposes:

Role Of Innate Instincts In Hawk Navigation

Several factors, like genetic factors and celestial cues, will influence their innate instincts of migration. They will inherit the direction of their migratory path from their parents.

Besides, they can use the sun and stars to detect the right path. As hawks are diurnal, they will use the sun’s rising and setting to maintain their right direction. They can also use the earth’s magnetic field to detect their position and select the right direction.

The Use Of Landmarks and Geographical Features

They are capable of remembering visual cues of geographical features. If you compare hawk vision vs humans, hawks have 7-8 times better vision than humans. Thus, they can detect the geographical future even from high altitudes.

Features like mountains, waterbodies, coastlines, etc. will act as reference points for them. Then, they can orient themselves and maintain a general course of travel. By following a sequence of familiar landmarks, hawks can navigate along and reach their expected destination.

The Influence Of Weather On Hawk Navigation

Hawks will use atmospheric cues to pick their speed, altitudes, and direction. For example, you will less likely find them traveling in the opposite direction of the wind because it will require a lot of energy. Which they can save by flying in a path in the direction of the wind.

If the strength of the wind is less, you will find them flying at higher altitudes during translocation. But to save energy, if strong winds, they will take the path of lower altitudes.

Concisely, they take advantage of favorable thermals, winds, and updrafts to ease their flight and conserve energy. This will help them to optimize their flight and stay on track during migration.

What Impact Does Migration Have On Hawk Populations?

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Let’s see the impact of migration on the Hawks’ population:

Migration And Hawk Survival Rates

Migration can increase their survival rates by allowing them to access abundant food sources and favorable habitats. Also, this migration allows these predatory birds to escape from the harsh cold weather of their natural habitats.

Contrarily, as you know, this migration also poses risks like collisions with vehicles, turbines, and power lines. Also, they will come in contact with various species during traveling and resting periods. Thus, this will also increase the risk of disease transmission.

These incidents will reduce their longevity. Though they may live around 12 years in the wild, these types of incidents while migration may increase the mortality rate.

Role Of Migration In Hawk Genetic Diversity

When hawks migrate, they interact and breed with individuals from different regions. This will reduce the risk of genetic mutation, which generally happens in isolated populations. Thus, mixing the gene will promote genetic diversity essential for long-term survival.

Also, individuals that translocate to different regions will come in contact with distinct climates and prey niches. This will also enhance their fitness in specific environmental conditions.

Impact Of Migration On Hawk Social Dynamics

Hawks show territorial behavior and defend their nesting sites. But when they migrate, you will notice them leaving behind their territories. Thus, conflict may arise between individuals claiming the territories when they return.

Also, after returning, the competition while hunting will increase. These competitive interactions will shape the distribution of individuals within a population.

Research Conducted On Hawk Migration

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Multiple researchers researched the migration of the hawk species. Some key researches are:

  • “What Does the Swainson’s Hawk Migration Phenology Tell Us about its Migration Ecology?” -this study shows us whether the Swainson hawks show differential migration depending on their age or not.
  • “Migration Counts of Raptors at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, as Indicators of Population Trends, 1934-1986”- This study shows the counts of these birds of prey over the years.  It showed how there were changes in the migrants due to the effect of shootings, DDTs, or collisions.
  • “Hawks from Every Angle How to Identify Raptors In Flight”- This research shows how to identify this predatory bird when they are in flight. This will give you a better understanding of the identification instead of the explicit description of their plumage.

Technological Advances In Tracking Hawk Migration

Researchers generally use advanced methods to track the hawk’s migration, as mere observations can contain errors.

  • Radar: This advanced technology can estimate hawks’ migration intensity, timing, and direction.
  • Satellite: In this case, researchers will add a small transmitter to a hawk. That transmitter will keep transmitting the data of their movements, speed, and altitudes.
  • GPS tracking: This is less broad than the radar and slightly broader than the satellite. Researchers can employ this method on more individuals. But, this can only show their movement within a local scale.

Current Knowledge Gaps And Future Research Directions

Though there is numerous research on the migration of hawks, there still needs to be some clarification.  How they understand the seasonal changes is still a vague idea.

Also, how they choose their stopover and resting sites aren’t clear. Besides, there aren’t also any solid reasons why some species migrate in flocks, some in pairs, and some travel solely.

After addressing those knowledge gaps, you need to research more for implementing an effective monitoring system. Only proper monitoring can protect their resting, stopover, and breeding sites.

How Does Understanding Hawk Migration Support Conservation Efforts?

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They play an important role in the food chain; thus, extinction of them will cause an imbalance in the food chain. But are hawks endangered? Only 20 species among 200 are endangered.

Thus, to prevent them from extinction, they need conservative efforts. So, are hawks protected? Many organizations are taking effective steps to protect them.

Still, the concerns of individuals, including you, are also necessary. Understanding hawk migration is crucial for developing effective conservation strategies.

Implications Of Migration For Hawk Conservation Strategies

Conservationists can detect the prime stopover sites, breeding areas, and wintering grounds by monitoring their migration patterns. This knowledge will help in:

  • Prioritizing areas for management, habitat protection, and restoration
  • Authorities can take necessary steps to mitigate potential risks during their migration
  • They can also take steps to limit pesticide use and illegal hunting around those regions during the migration periods

Role Of Migration Knowledge In Habitat Protection

Migration knowledge will give ideas about the essential regions for their habitats during migration. Thus, the decision-makers can plan the protection of the landscapes. This will involve:

  • Diagnosing and conserving suitable prey populations
  • Maintaining intact forested areas for their nesting
  • Protecting open spaces and wetlands which will provide hawks with foraging opportunities

Impact Of Public Awareness Of Hawk Migration On Conservation Efforts

Though conservation organizations are taking essential steps, public awareness is also necessary regarding hawk migration.

  • During the migration period, farmers can reduce the use of pesticides
  • Individuals along the migration routes can be aware enough to make bird-friendly structures
  • Public awareness and educational campaigns can help to raise funds for conservation projects


Hawks migrate to increase their chance of survival as they travel toward regions of suitable climates, habitats, and food sources. We already cleared many facts on do hawks migrate. They use their genetic programs and visual, celestial, and atmospheric cues to navigate their directions.

Different geographical features will play a role in their selecting a traveling route. You must have adequate knowledge about migration behavior if you want to participate in their protection. Though authorities are taking essential steps, the participation of individuals will strengthen the efforts more.

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