Hawk watching
Students counting hawks and other migratory birds.

What do biology and meteorology have in common?  At Millersville University, which was just recognized as a Hawk Watch site, the two departments recently joined efforts for a hawk watch count in collaboration with Dr. Laurie Goodrich, raptor biologist with the Hawk Mountain Observatory.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture. Photo by Kevin Faccenda

“Hawk count sites have been collecting data on migrating hawks for years,” says Aaron Haines, biology professor at Millersville.  “They use long-term migration databases to monitor changes in raptor (i.e., hawks, eagles, osprey, vultures and falcon) populations.”

Monitoring raptor populations is important because raptors are sensitive bio-indicators at the top of food chains, and changes in the numbers of raptors reflect changes in the health of the environment.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo by Kevin Faccenda

For example, famous environmental biologist Rachel Carson used declining counts of immature bald eagles at Hawk Mountain in her book “Silent Spring” as evidence of DDT’s harmful effects on the environment.

Like Rachel Carson, students on top of Caputo Hall on campus have been scanning the skies for migrating raptors making their way north.  Once a raptor is spotted, it is identified to species, and the direction of flight and altitude of the bird is recorded.  Also, students record the weather conditions every hour while conducting their counts.

Black Vulture
Black Vulture. Photo by Kevin Faccenda

“This type of data offers great collaborative opportunities between biology and meteorology students to discuss how weather patterns impact the travel behavior of raptors during migration,” says Haines.

Baled Eagle
Bald Eagle. Photo by Kevin Faccenda

“The real exciting news is that Millersville University students can keep track of these raptors as they fly over campus in real time,” says Haines.  The Millersville University Hawk Count project can be found on the Dunkadoo webpage.  By following the link to the Millersville project, students can see what birds of prey have flown over campus, up to the minute, and be able to see hawk count statistics gathered on campus.  Counts will continue through the first week of May.  After a break, counts will begin again in late September for the fall migration.

Millersville University has just been recognized as a Hawk Watch site through the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).  All student count data is uploaded to a national database at, www.hawkcount.org.  In addition, results are recorded on the Trektellan international bird migration count database, http://www.trektellen.nl/?language=english&.

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