Wednesday, October 15, 2008

River of Raptors

Audubon South Carolina’s Director of Bird Conservation, Jeff Mollenhauer, and Development Director, Nancyjean Nettles, recently returned from a trip to Veracruz, Mexico where they observed the “River of Raptors.” Veracruz is well-known as one of the best spots in the world to observe migrating hawks and vultures in the entire world. In fact, more than 5 million raptors pass through Veracruz each fall! Single day totals at the hawk watch stations there often surpass 100,000 birds and can even go higher than 500,000 birds! Three species make up the majority of the birds counted at the hawk watch stations in Veracruz: Broad-winged Hawks (~1.8 million), Turkey Vultures (~1.5 million), and Swainson’s Hawks (~1 million).

In addition to seeing tens of thousands of migrating raptors during their trip, there were also several other spectacular sights. One morning at the La Mancha Biological Research Station, they saw a flight of perhaps 10,000 – 50,000 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers heading south to their wintering grounds! There were so many flying over in a constant stream that they looked like dragonflies. Without using binoculars, Jeff was counting approximately 60-75 per minute flying over the birdwatching group. The flight continued for several hours until small groups began to settle in trees. One tree was observed to contain more than 50 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers!

Another stop on the trip, a highlight for many of the participants, was watching an estimated 500,000 bats pour out of a cave at dusk. The cave was no more than a small hole in the ground in the middle of a field of corn. As the first bats flew out of the cave a pair of Aplomado Falcons and a Bat Falcon made several attempts to catch them, but were unsuccessful. Soon the tiny trickle of bats became so thick that they even created their own breeze! It was amazing to see how well they were able to navigate using echolocation. The bats had no problem flying between participants and even through people’s legs!

We hope to make another trip down to this amazing area in October 2009. If you are interested in joining us to see the River of Raptors in Veracruz, please contact Jeff Mollenhauer at

Images by Jeff Mollenhauer

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