Bird Watching & Hawk Migration in the Fall Season


Hawks Soar Over Asheville in Annual Migration

Fall is a favorite time here in Western North Carolina, when the cooling weather provides ideal conditions for exploring all this area offers. The changing leaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway present a feast for the eyes, and the migration sightings can provide memories to last a lifetime, particularly for hawk enthusiasts.

Each year in the fall, visitors and residents in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to witness the migration of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures as they pass overhead on their quest to find their new southern home for the winter. Early fall allows us mere mortals to glimpse these majestic birds. On the right day, spectators will likely witness more hawks in just a few hours than most see in their lifetime.

Flying along the Appalachian Mountain range eases the long journey south since the birds can coast along using the natural updrafts. Expect to see red-shouldered, broad-winged, red-tailed, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks. Although keeping eyes on the sky during this time of year is almost guaranteed to render a sighting or two, locals have a few tips to improve your chances.

Choose Observation Time Carefully

The last two weeks in September and the first week of October tend to be the optimal time of year to observe the migrating hawks. The best opportunities for viewing are in the morning between 10 a.m. and noon, and in the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Location is Everything

Every year, people gather along the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Mills River Valley Overlook, located at milepost 404.5. As many as 2,500 hawks have been spotted at this location in one day. Other popular viewing posts along the parkway include Craggy Pinnacle Outlook (MP 364.1), Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (MP 364.6) and Devils’ Courthouse (MP 422.4). Chimney Rock State Park is also a popular viewing point, as many gather for the Flock to the Rock Event held each autumn.

The Right Equipment is Essential

Those hawks won’t be flying a mere few feet above your heads, so be sure to bring along proper bird viewing equipment such as binoculars. And, if you wish to capture your sightings with photos to cherish in the future, a smartphone camera probably won’t cut it. The Compleat Naturalist and Wild Birds Unlimited, both located in Asheville, offer bird watching equipment for those who may find themselves unequipped to make the most out of the fall hawk migration.

Guided Tours & Bird Watching Groups

There are a few opportunities to join guided bird-watching tours in the area. Ventures Birding Tours offers day trips and several migration viewings in the fall. If you want to discover more about the birds that frequent this region, the Blue Ridge Audubon Society is a wealth of information. The local Audubon Society provides resources for bird watching and leads themed bird walks regularly.

Enhance Your Experience

To enhance your hawk migration experience, consider participating in an unparalleled up-close encounter. The Sourwood Inn offers a Falconry package, which includes a two-night stay at their bed and breakfast, and a 90-minute hike accompanied by one of their resident falcons. Guests will learn about the history of falconry, the types of equipment needed, and all about the falcons themselves. Participants will then have an opportunity to handle the hawks.

Biltmore offers a fascinating 90-minute falconry adventure. Guided by a professional falconer, you will learn how to handle a trained hawk or falcon. 

Photo courtesy of Curtis Wright Falconry School.

Updated July 5, 2024