Rapturous Raptors: Insider Tips on Watching the Fall Migration


Students search for migrating raptors

Although Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO) volunteer hawkwatchers have been happily counting hawks since mid-August from their usual perch, the hawks really start pouring through in mid-September. So fall is a perfect time to plan your trip to visit Hawk Hill—just across the Golden Gate Bridge!

The best raptor hours are mid-day, from 10 am to 2 pm. The best winds are usually light (2 to 5 mph), and from the north or northwest. GGRO hawkwatchers are up there seven days a week, through November, unless there is heavy fog or rain.

The best introduction to California’s greatest raptor show—which features hawks, kites, falcons, eagles, vulture, osprey, and harrier—is through one of the weekend docent presentations held by GGRO, a program of the Parks Conservancy in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Every Saturday and Sunday in September through October, volunteer docents give free public talks. The program begins at noon with a Hawk Talk, translating raptor identification into an easy exercise, and explaining why we see so many raptors here at the Golden Gate.

At 1 pm, an experienced bander carries up a newly banded wild hawk for a Banding Demonstration. The bander explains why we trap and band hawks, shows the hawk to the crowd for a few minutes, and then releases it.

WHEN YOU VISIT: Dress in layers! The weather is variable on Hawk Hill and is often cold and windy. However, there are also still, sunny days when it gets extremely hot, so be ready for anything. There is little protection from the sun, so bring a hat and sunscreen. There is no water available so bring your own. Port-a-potties are available down near the parking area.

Don’t forget your binoculars, and come visit the Marin Headlands Visitor Center for tons of great raptor and bird books, apparel, games, calendars, snacks, and more! Be sure to leave plenty of time to park and walk up the hill before noon, especially on those beautiful America’s Cup weekends.

By Allen Fish
Director, Golden Gate Raptor Observatory

Allen Fish

The GGRO’s first director, Allen Fish was hired in 1985.

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