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Little Things Episode 3: Hawk Ridge

Even if you are not a birder, you can’t help but learn about them at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth.

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Even if you are not a birder, you can’t help but learn about them at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth. Perched on a scenic ridge overlooking Lake Superior is the opportunity to see hundreds of migrating raptors, and a chance to chat with experts who can explain exactly what you are seeing.

One of those experts is Margie Menzes, the Education Director for Hawk Ridge. “Every living thing has a story.” Margie says. “But unless you talk to someone who is knowledgeable about those things you may miss that whole fascinating story. So we specialize as educators here.”

On a busy weekend in the fall, you will see naturalists like Becca Ralston giving short presentations to kids and curious adults. A “banding station” is set up for young kids where they’ll get a new bird name, an ID tag, and measurements. If the kids migrate back next year, they can swing by the banding station and see how much they grew.

But the real star of the show is the birds themselves, up close and personal. Safely captured nearby, they are banded, and brought up for a brief Q&A, before being released.

Lake Superior is a natural barrier for many migrating birds, funneling them all along the North Shore, towards Duluth. When conditions are right, they will ride “thermals”, shoreline currents of rising warm air, to gain height, like invisible bird elevators.

Hawk Ridge in Duluth is strategically positioned to see this. Sometimes hundreds of birds at a time. Because they’ve been counting raptors since 1951, Executive Director Janelle Long says they have a wealth of data to compare the numbers to.

“With raptors being a top predator at the top of the food chain, if we start to see something changing, something happening there, that signifies something bigger that could be happening in nature.” Long explains.

One example of that, Margie says, is seeing a decrease in some of the “hatch-year” birds like the Saw-wet owl, indicating that perhaps they had a tougher year.

“I think that’s true about so much in nature.“ Margie says. “If you take the time to really learn about what’s happening, you will learn a ton.”

Educational activities will end on October 31st, but the overlook is worth a visit for the view, and nearby nature trails. Activities are listed on their website.

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is a 501c 3 nonprofit, and they ask only for a donation.

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