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FKH Season in Review: 2018

July 15, 2019

The 2018 season was very successful as the numbers go, and even more memorable. We tallied a total of 19,067 raptors, the sixth highest total in the count’s history. Highlights included observing an impressive 18 species of raptors, setting records for both Merlins and Snail Kites, and getting to witness an incredible migration of 500 Peregrine Falcons in a single day! The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is truly one of the most unique and remarkable hawkwatches in the country, and one that I, personally, was honored to be a part of in 2018.


We recorded a total of 3,210 Turkey Vultures this season, but they were just beginning to show up in big numbers in the count’s final week. Many more are sure to go through in the month of November. It may come as a surprise to many that we only recorded a single Black Vulture this season, but they are actually quite difficult to find from the Hawkwatch. They do not like to cross water, so they become more and more scarce the farther you go down the Keys. In fact, BVs have only been recorded in four prior seasons, so this was a very good find indeed.

Osprey by Rafael Galvez

Ospreys, Eagles, & Harriers

It was a fantastic year for Ospreys as we came up just short of 3,000 with 2,992. This was the second highest total ever behind only 2014, and the 1,392 in October were the most ever for the month. Bald Eagles were right at the season average of 20. This is a species that does not really go any farther south than the Keys, so migrant numbers are fairly low. The season total of 748 Northern Harriers was the fourth highest at FKH, and only about 100 behind the record. We cracked triple digits for them on October 13th with 110, a good number for any hawkwatch.

Swallow-tailed Kite by Kevan Sunderland


It was an outstanding year for all three kite species that we observed. After September we thought we might break the record for Mississippi Kites, but only 14 went through in October to give us 116 in total: 12 shy of the record. The bulk of the Swallow-tailed Kites also came through in September and finished with a total of 162, the third highest total for a season. Arguably the most impressive part of the season was the four Snail Kites that we saw heading south. This is a species that is largely thought to be non-migratory and really has no business being in the Keys. Before this season there had only been two other Snail Kites recorded in the history of the count, so we clearly got to witness an unprecedented and potentially once-in-a-lifetime event in 2018. White-tailed Kite is the only species of raptor that has been seen from the hawkwatch that we did not have this year.


Unfortunately, the accipiters never really showed up this year. We had the lowest Sharp-shinned Hawk total ever with only 596, well below the previous low. This does not mean that Sharpies are in dire straits, only that their migration was late this year. Most of the northern hawkwatches were reporting large numbers of this species during our last week of the count; they just couldn’t quite make it here in time. Cooper’s Hawks fared a little better, but were still below average with a total of 371. It is likely that more of them will also come through in November, as this is a species that has been trending upwards nationally in recent years.

Swainson’s Hawk by Ted Keyel


Buteos are the most diverse group of raptors in North America and at FKH, with five different species being recorded this year. Broad-winged Hawks are the most famous at hawkwatches due to the large migratory groups, called kettles, they form. At our site, they can be difficult to count because their aversion to water often causes them to backtrack after they reach Key West. We had a solid year for S-bound Broad-wings with 4,453, a little above the season average. The most we had in a single day for them was 1,515… unfortunately heading north. This would have been a daily record had they been flying in the right direction. Red-shouldered Hawks, like Bald Eagles, don’t really go beyond the Keys in migration so we typically see them in small density. This year we had only 8, which is about a third of the average. Short-tailed Hawks are a Florida specialty that don’t truly migrate, but seem to disperse in the fall. This year we had a total of 49 S-bound, the fourth most in a season here. Swainson’s Hawks have a different story. They are a highly migratory western species that can be seen in very large numbers in Central America in the fall. However a small population winters in the Everglades, therefore they are a regular visitor to the Keys in migration. This year we had 25, well below the average but once again, a species that will probably pick up in November. Red-tailed Hawks are similar to Black Vultures in that they are very common on the mainland, but rare in the Keys. We had only one this year.

Merlin by Rafael Galvez


Falcons are the pride and joy of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. For two of the three species, 2018 was a very successful year. American Kestrels were the exception however with a total of only 1,489 for the season. This came in as the fourth lowest total in the count’s history on the same year that some very impressive numbers were reported in the north. We were getting some good flights of kestrels right up until the end of the season though, so it could be that there are still more to come in November. The Merlin migration, on the other hand, was extraordinary this year. We broke the daily record with 110 on October 14th, and the season total with 1,042. The improved view as a result of Hurricane Irma’s passage in 2017 likely played a part in these numbers, but I think it’s safe to say that it was just a great year for Merlins. Finally we get to FKH’s most famous migrant: the Peregrine Falcon. We once again lived up to the title of the Peregrine Falcon Capital of the World with a final tally of 3,588, the fifth highest in the count’s history. This was capped by a total of exactly 500 passing by on October 13th, the fifth highest single day ever recorded. This is a spectacle that very few people have ever witnessed and most hawkwatches can only dream of. Hopefully there is an even better day next year!

Thanks to everybody who helped make Florida Keys Hawkwatch 2018 such a successful season, we’ll see you again in 2019!



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kerry Ross permalink
    July 16, 2019 2:33 am

    Thank you for sharing. I very much appreciate seeing the seasonal summaries. Some of my favorite moments in my life happened at that Hawkwatch. They include, but are not limited to, working 2 seasons with my future wife, The Osprey Day, 2 Peregrine Falcon records, The Common Nighthawk day, The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher day, The Bahama Swallows, the White-wagtail, the new yacht burning to the waterline as it passed….then beached, the White-tailed Kite, every last Peregrine Falcon…all of them, the Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher, hanging out and watching with Raf, the Key West Quail-dove, the Turkey Vultures, and meeting many awesome people.



    On Mon, Jul 15, 2019 at 3:41 PM Florida Keys Hawkwatch wrote:

    > Christopher Payne posted: ” The 2018 season was very successful as the > numbers go, and even more memorable. We tallied a total of 19,067 raptors, > the sixth highest total in the count’s history. Highlights included > observing an impressive 18 species of raptors, setting records fo” >

    • July 26, 2019 10:28 am

      Kerry – Thank you for sharing! Too many good moments to recount. Thank you for all the dedication you and Rachel have given the project. We are getting ready for 2019, and know it will be another good season. Any time you want to return to the Keys, you have a home at FKH!

  2. mary permalink
    July 16, 2019 1:32 pm

    Wonder why I did not receive this list, too?

    Mary Butterfield

    • July 26, 2019 10:28 am

      Hi Mary,
      Great to hear from you. We will make a better effort in the future to keep you informed.
      Best wishes,

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