The Kittatinny Ridge is a globally important flyway for more than 150 species of songbirds and 16 species of hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures. The Kittatinny, part of the Appalachian Mountain Ridge and Valley Region, is an integral part of the larger Atlantic Flyway, which channels millions of migratory birds from their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America to their nesting grounds in North America, and back. Species following the Atlantic Flyway brave storms, oceans, mountains, buildings, predators, and habitat fragmentation, all while traversing the most populated region of the Americas.
Visit Waggoner’s Gap Hawkwatch, one of the most exciting places to view raptors in central Pennsylvania.
Why birds migrate along the Kittatinny Ridge
Each autumn, birds of prey follow the ridge south, taking advantage of updrafts along the Kittatinny as they travel to wintering grounds. Many raptors migrate on a broad front, and geographic features like coastlines and mountain ridges, called leading lines, which concentrate the birds. Appalachian Ridges can provide a relatively effortless ride under the right conditions. Raptors use two kids of air currents during migration – thermal and deflective.
Thermal air currents develop when the sun unevenly heats air at the earth’s surface, resulting in a series of warm, rising air bubbles that terminate aloft when the air bubble cools down and stops rising. Thermals occur in late spring, summer, and early fall when the sun angle is high.
Deflective air currents (also known as updrafts) occur when winds striking vertical ridges are forced upwards. Updrafts can occur in any season as long as wind is blowing. The birds obtain the lift and momentum to cruise for miles on a wave of deflected air.
While the Kittatinny and other parallel Appalachian ridges host many hawkwatch locations, hawkwatches can also be found in many other areas of Pennsylvania including the Allegheny Front, Brady’s Bend, Presque Isle, and several locations in southeast Pennsylvania.
About the Kittatinny Ridge
The Kittatinny Ridge (also known as Blue or North Mountain) is a prominent, linear ridge that runs 185 miles across 11 Pennsylvania counties, forming the southeastern edge of the Appalachian ridge and valley system. The Kittatinny is the largest uninterrupted forest area in central and eastern Pennsylvania, and treasured for its scenic beauty and as an unmatched recreational resource.
The Ridge provides opportunities for hiking (including 125 miles of the Appalachian Trail), biking, bird and wildlife watching, hunting and fishing. It has many rock outcroppings and boulder fields along its length that are great locations for watching the annual fall migration of hawks, eagles and vultures, and has been designated by Audubon as one of the state’s largest- and highest -priority Important Bird Areas. The Ridge is also the source of clean water for tens of thousands of people.
The Kittatinny Ridge Conservation Project is a collaborative effort of local, regional, and state organizations and agencies focusing public attention on the importance of the ridge; protecting it from further habitat loss, fragmentation and inappropriate land use. For more information, visit www.kittatinnyridge.org.