Another Piece of the Puzzle

Lindsey Duval is a full-time counter at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. She’s an avid birder and has a broad-ranging experience in and out of the field. She has worked with Golden-cheeked Warblers in Texas, monitoring nests and conducting point counts to target banded birds. She has worked with Common Yellowthroats, including mist-netting and territorial experiments during nesting season. Lindsey has performed point counts for Pennsylvania’s Breeding Bird Atlas, banded birds with the Purple Martin Conservation Association and surveyed for American Woodcocks. She has joined us from Saratoga Springs, NY.


  Merlin at the Florida’s Keys Hawkwatch. Image by Lindsey Duval.

Merlin at the Florida’s Keys Hawkwatch. Image by Lindsey Duval.


This is my first fall of hawkwatching and it has been an interesting experience. I have been a birder for nine years but have only sat at hawkwatching sites a few times, and usually on a quiet ridgeline rather than a busy key. 

Hawkwatching is a unique style of birding that tests one’s skills, knowledge, and experience, along with perhaps some long-standing birding habits. Often when birding regularly, you get to spend a bit of time with a bird hanging out in their preferred habitat. With hawkwatching the bird is blasting past you as fast as it desires to go, and with Peregrine Falcons this can just be a glimpse. Because of this, knowledge of shape and behavior is really important.

Hawkwatching is a unique style of birding that tests one’s skills, knowledge, and experience...

Fortunately, at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, there are hundreds of Peregrine Falcons to test and reinforce my understanding of their shapes and how they behave on the wing. There have also been several dozen individuals of other falcons, hawks, and kites to study their shapes and behaviors, which has been a great way to see where I am with my birding skills and where I can improve. 

  Peregrine Falcon taken from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch deck. Photo by Rachel Smith.

Peregrine Falcon taken from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch deck. Photo by Rachel Smith.

Typical birding also relies on careful, somewhat long study before ever even voicing identification of the species, especially if you are birding in a group. Hawkwatching has been an interesting break from this because when you first see a bird, you want everybody on it including yourself first, and then work on identification. You can yell out “bird,” “hawk,” “falcon,” or anything along those lines and it’s okay to be incorrect. The birds fly by so fast sometimes that it is most important that it gets seen at all. I think this may make hawkwatching valuable to female birders in overcoming the tendency to be afraid to say anything at all about a bird in a social birding setting unless they are absolutely certain of what they are seeing. In a more personal case, it has been a good way to backtrack to the basics in making sure I can at least put a poorly seen bird into a specific group, if not a genus. 

I’m looking forward to seeing what else might show up around the Florida Keys Hawkwatch during these next few weeks. I’m hoping for, of course, more study of falcons. I’m also wishing for a big push of Broad-winged Hawk kettles, many more Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and plenty more of my personal favorite, the Northern Harrier! 

I think this may make hawkwatching valuable to female birders in overcoming the tendency to be afraid to say anything at all about a bird in a social birding setting...
  Swallow-tailed Kite at the Florida’s Keys Hawkwatch. Image by Lindsey Duval.

Swallow-tailed Kite at the Florida’s Keys Hawkwatch. Image by Lindsey Duval.