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Bird watching
Mexico's biodiversity ranks 4th worldwide. Long shorelines extend on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and are full of important marshes, although many are still in its natural unspoiled state they may be in for serious menaces.

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:

  • Turkey vultures                     1,47 million during the 1995 fall migration,
  • Broadwinged hawks             1,7 million,
  • Swainson's hawks                 0,84 million and

  • Mississippi kites                    48,000
When you add the local species like roadside hawks, gray hawks, Aplomado falcons, crested caracaras and white-tailed kites, then you have got to get to this birdwatching site right on top of the Bienvenido Hotel downtown CARDEL which is an small town a mere 20 miles from the Port of Veracruz.

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.
 
Visit Hawk Mountain Website
SPECIES FIVE-YEAR AVERAGES, 1992-96
 
Turkey vulture
1,202,000
Osprey
  1,500
Swallow-tailed kite
50
Mississippi kite
  34,900
Plumbeous kite
 5
Hook-billed kite
60
Northern Harrier
200
Sharp-shinned hawk
2,800
Cooper's hawk
 1,100
Harris hawk
2
Zone-tailed hawk
23
Red-shouldered hawk
20
Broad-winged hawk
 1,452,000
Swainson's hawk
  513,000
Red-tailed hawk
140
Ferruginous hawk
<1
Golden eagle
<1
American kestrel
4,400
Merlin
50
Peregrine falcon
 290
Unidentified raptor
80,000
TOTAL
  3,295,000
King Vulture

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 of
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

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