Since I missed the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch last weekend I'm itching to go out there today -- but I can't, I have to work. To compensate for this I spent time last evening looking through the hawk watch records at Hawkcount.org. The statistics are fascinating and they support a hunch I started to develop last year.
Every fall I attend two hawk watches 775 miles apart. In early September I visit the Cadillac Mountain Hawk Watch in Maine and see mostly American kestrels and sharp-shinned hawks, approximately one kestrel for every two sharpies. Then in October/November I visit the Allegheny Front where the most common hawks are sharp-shins and red-tails in nearly equal numbers. The kestrel count there is low, sometimes insignificant.
I used to think my experience at Cadillac Mountain was normal for September and that I missed seeing kestrels at The Front because I visited it too late in the fall. (That's how I miss broad-winged hawk migration.) But I had a hunch I'd got it backwards. Perhaps, I thought, kestrels are scarce and my experience at Cadillac is unusual.
The numbers at Hawkcount.org bear that out. Compared to the number of sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels are 40-60% as numerous at Cadillac but are only 4-10% as numerous in Pennsylvania.
Kestrels really aren't a big item at most hawk watches and my experience isn't "normal." I prefer to think of it as special. Special, like the kestrels themselves who are one of the most beautiful raptors on earth.
(photo of a male American Kestrel by Brian Herman)