Thanks to Lana & Joe Batts for funding this project in full!
Glacier National Park boasts one of the most important golden eagle migration routes in North America. Nearly 2,000 golden eagles were recorded migrating past Mount Brown annually from 1994 through 1996. Recent trend data from outside the park, however, indicate significant declines in their numbers. This drop is attributed to environmental contaminants, habitat loss, prey declines and climate change. These birds and other raptors are top predators, and migration counts are a cost-effective and efficient approach to detect changes in their numbers to aid in their conservation.
In 2011, a Citizen Science Raptor Migration Project was initiated to investigate several sites throughout the park to establish a Hawk Watch International site. Experienced volunteers also counted eagles from Lake McDonald Lodge to calibrate data from pilot sites where birds have been periodically counted since 1994. Through this research, the park determined that Mount Brown would work best as the Hawk Watch site due to its location along the migration corridor and its accessibility.
Observing raptors from a Hawk Watch site is a life-changing event for many people, as they look a falcon in the eyes as it passes overhead, see the sun lighting up the saffron-golden feathers on an eagle’s wings or watch raptors riding thermals rising off Glacier’s peaks. From the observation point, volunteers get a close-up view, enabling reliable identification of all species of migrating raptors.
This funding will ensure success of the program by supporting an experienced biologist who will train volunteers in raptor identification and Hawk Watch International protocol. Once a volunteer becomes proficient in raptor identification and the protocol, they will take turns as the primary observer at the Mount Brown site, training and educating new volunteers and/or visitors on the role of raptors in our ecosystems and some of the challenges they face in today’s world.