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 Cecil Bird Club
  A Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society
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Turkey Point Hawk Watch

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Turkey Point Hawk Watch

A big thanks to our all-volunteer team of loyal hawk-watchers, who each year cover a total of almost 90 calendar days and a more than 200 hours!  A remarkable effort with the only reward being the sheer joy of birding.

About the Turkey Point Hawk WatchDescription: Description: Turkey Point Lighthouse, Copyright 1999, Ron Kelczewski

The Turkey Point Hawk Watch is an all-volunteer effort to count diurnal birds of prey (hawks, eagles, and vultures) as they pass over Turkey Point and its historic lighthouse during the fall southbound migration.  The Hawk Watch was started in 1994 by Charles Gant and Gary Griffith, members of the Cecil Bird Club.  In each of the first two seasons, over 2,500 birds of prey were counted.  The highest season total count to date was in 1999, when over 7,000 raptors passed through.

The Hawk Watch is coordinated by the Cecil Bird Club and is staffed entirely by volunteers, both club members and others.  All are welcome to come to the Watch, either to help in the official counting for a given day or to drop by for a casual visit to admire the spectacle as these beautiful birds pass overhead.

Turkey Point is part of Elk Neck State Park, and the Hawk Watch is made possible by the kindness and cooperation of the park's staff.  The Cecil Bird Club extends a special thank you to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Elk Neck State Park administrative staff, and the park rangers, all of whom have welcomed us and made special facilities available to the Hawk Watch volunteers.

Where the Watch Is Located
Turkey Point is located in Cecil County, in the northeast corner of Maryland.  The Point is a peninsula of land between the Elk and Northeast Rivers, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.  The peninsula is roughly triangular, with the point facing south, and this shape funnels and concentrates migrating birds, which are often reluctant to cross water.

To reach Turkey Point, take I-95 or Route 40 into Cecil County.  Exit at Rt. 272 south and enter the town of North East.  Continue straight through town and remain on Rt. 272 south.  Continue past the main part of Elk Neck State Park (camping area, day use areas, and administrative offices) and past the community of Chesapeake Isle.  Rt. 272 ends at the Turkey Point parking lot, about 11 miles south of the town of North East.

Description: Description: Hawk Watchers, Copyright 1997, Marcia WatsonPark at the lot and walk past the barrier onto the gravel lane, with the cliffs and the Northeast River on your right.  Continue south on this lane, which will soon veer inland, passing through two meadows and then through a small woodlot, to emerge at the Point and its historic lighthouse.  The official hawk count is usually conducted in the meadow just before the lighthouse, near the new Hawk Watch sign, but on some days, depending on wind conditions, it may take place at the lighthouse area itself.  Just look for people with binoculars, looking up. It is exactly 0.9 mile to the usual watch site from the parking lot and another 0.1 mile from the meadow to the lighthouse.  Most of the walk is on a gravel lane on level ground, although the first part is a short uphill section with spectacular views of the water from the top of the cliffs.

Possible Species
Seventeen species of diurnal raptors as listed below have been observed at the Turkey Point Hawk Watch.  Those marked with an asterisk are not seen every season.  All others are regular and seen annually.

  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagle
  • Swallow-tailed Kite*
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk*
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Rough-legged Hawk*
  • Golden Eagle*
  • American Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Peregrine Falcon

The most common species at the Hawk Watch is Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Though not as numerous, Bald Eagles are seen almost daily throughout the season, as are both vultures.

Though the Hawk Watch concentrates on diurnal birds of prey, Turkey Point is also an important stopover for migrating Saw-whet Owls.  A banding project in fall of 1996 tallied more than 300 Northern Saw-whets.  Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owls, and Great Horned Owls are resident year-round.  The Cecil Bird Club traditionally sponsors an evening owl walk near Halloween.  Individuals who wish to look for owls on their own need to get special permission, since the park is closed dusk to dawn. 

Turkey Point is also a good place to observe small birds in migration.  Especially notable are movements of swallows, Blue Jays, American Robins, and warblers of many kinds.  Migrating loons, grebes, and ducks also pass over or near Turkey Point.

How to Participate
Everyone is welcome to drop by the Hawk Watch.  No advance notice is necessary, but if you would like to make sure that an official counter will be present to help you identify birds, please contact Pat Valdata, who will let you know the volunteer schedule.

To volunteer to be an official counter, please contact Coordinator of Volunteers Pat Valdata.  Volunteers are welcome to count for one day or many.  Those who are able to commit time on a regular basis each week (for example, every Wednesday) are encouraged to do so.  Volunteers are asked to be at the Hawk Watch by about 9 a.m. and to stay as long as possible.  The number of birds seen each season is directly related to volunteer hours, so all who can are encouraged to count.  Inexperienced birders can be paired with those who are more experienced counters until they are comfortable with the process.

What to Bring
Consider bringing the following, depending on the weather and how long you plan to stay:

  • Binoculars (definitely) and spotting scope (optional).
  • Count data sheet or notebook & pencil.
  • Something to sit on (blanket or lightweight folding chair - we have a picnic bench, but you might want somthing more comfortable).
  • Comfortable walking shoes and clothing.  The one-mile walk to the Hawk Watch is on a gravel lane and dress shoes are inappropriate.
  • Lunch or snacks & drinks.
  • Bug repellent (warm weather only).
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Layers of warm clothing (Turkey Point often feels 10 degrees cooler than elsewhere).
  • Bird identification guides.
  • Knapsack to carry it all in.
  • Please, no radios or cd/tape players.  We like to listen to the birds.

A portable restroom is available near the lighthouse at Turkey Point.  The closest public restrooms are north on Rt. 272, in the main part of Elk Neck State Park at the Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch and at the Northeast River Day Use Area (day user fee) (closed when the weather turns cold).

Collecting and Submitting Data
Official counters are responsible for tallying the hourly and total number of birds of each species that fly southbound past Turkey Point.  For example, a partial tally sheet might look like this:


9-10 am

10-11 am

11 am-12 noon


Turkey Vulture





Bald Eagle





American Kestrel





Sharp-shinned Hawk










Counters may download blank count sheets here.  (See here for a sample of a completed data field sheet).  Or, use a simple notebook or make your own sheets.  

Counters are also asked to make simple notes on the weather;  for example, "cloudy, brisk wind from the NW, temp about 45 degrees."

Completed daily count sheets should be submitted promptly via e-mail to David Kimball, Hawk Watch Data Compiler. Dave keeps a running tally of the data so that counters know approximately how many birds are being seen.  At the end of the season, the data are submitted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).

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last updated 01/02/2013