Bird watching is one of the most popular forms
of nature-related recreation. As an example, over 30% of Texans in the
USA watch wildlife as a hobby, and nearly 17% travel away from home to
view wildlife, according to a recent Fish and Wildlife Service study.
|According to US raptor expert William S. Clark,
the largest count of migrating raptors in the world takes place at Veracruz
in Mexico where four million that's FOUR MILLION migrating
birds of prey were counted in the northern hemisphere autumn of 1995. Clark
has coauthored two field guides on North American raptors.
He says those numbers are more than double the largest counts made anywhere else in the world and he adds that on October 10, 1994 he witnessed the largest oneday migration in history when one million birds of prey passed through. Clark believes the raptors are funneled over Veracruz by geographic factors on their southward migration out of North America heading for their wintering grounds in South America.
The most numerous species are:
Mississippi kites 48,000
Nearly the entire world's population of Broad-winged and Swainson's hawks and Mississippi kites pass through Veracruz each spring and fall, with most birds passing in a two-week period in early October. Wading birds number in the hundreds of thousands and include white pelicans, anhingas, wood storks, and white-faced ibis. As forests continue to be cleared, stopover habitat where migrants can rest and feed may become increasingly limited.
Because nearly the entire continental populations of at least three species of raptors can be monitored at Veracruz, the hawk count and other programs of Pronatura Veracruz are critical to the success of raptor conservation in the Americas.
Migrating raptors and wading birds have been counted at Veracruz since 1991. The River of Raptors project is now led by Pronatura Veracruz. Pronatura is a leading non-governmental conservation organization in Mexico founded in 1981. The count is supported by technical assistance from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and HawkWatch International. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, the American Bird Conservancy and other foundations have helped provide financial support for the counts.
The migration count is conducted from mid-August
through mid-November annually. Two sites are manned daily by a three-person
count team, which includes two trained observers and one assistant (in
training). Three teams rotate through count duties for a total of 10 counters
each fall. Each counter uses 10-power binoculars and each count site is
equipped with a telescope and tripod for identification of distant flocks.
Counts are conducted from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
||SPECIES FIVE-YEAR AVERAGES,
Over the past five years, an average of 3,295,000
raptors has been counted each fall. More broad-winged hawks are seen
than any other raptor, with an annual average of 1,452,000 over the past five years. (See table) Spring migration is less
concentrated as birds can find strong thermals over a wider geographic area and disperse. Surface temperatures can go up to
42-degrees Celsius and the south winds help birds rise to very high altitudes, making them difficult for ground observers to
detect. Despite this factor, a previous spring count was still able to observe 800,000 migrating hawks.
The main count site is located in Cardel, 30 minutes
from the Port of Veracruz. Counters and tourists congregate at the top
the largest hotel in Cardel that offers a 360-degree view adjacent to the main square in town. The second site is located 10
kilometers further inland in the town of Chichicaxtle, along route 140, the main transportation route from Veracruz to Mexico
City. Both sites are open for visitors and regularly host Mexican and American/European bird watchers. Last year, seven
birding tour groups visited from throughout North America. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary offers a guided tour package to
Veracruz every September.
Click here to visit a Mexican Bird Museum