Veteran Yellowstone birder leads Hayden Valley Hawk Watch

A rough legged hawk takes flight east of Yellowstone National Park.

© Rob Koelling

A rough legged hawk takes flight east of Yellowstone National Park.

Throughout the summer, thousands of visitors come to Yellowstone National Park to catch a glimpse of awe-inspiring predators like grizzly bears and gray wolves. But during the fall, there’s a different group of apex predators who travel through Yellowstone in search of prey. They often strike without warning, and sometimes go unseen until the fatal moment.

Migratory raptors like hawks are a familiar sight in the park at this time of year, and visitors have a rare chance to learn about raptors from an expert, while also helping track birds of prey as part of a citizen science effort that could inform management decisions in Yellowstone.

Katy Duffy, a birding enthusiast who is now retired after a long career with the Park Service in Yellowstone and and Grand Teton National Park, leads the annual Hayden Valley Hawk Watch on Sunday.

“I’ve always been obsessed with science, and I’ve always loved birds, especially birds of prey,” said Duffy, who also organizes the annual Yellowstone area Christmas Bird Count from her home in Gardiner, Mont.

Duffy first came to Wyoming in 1981 to work for a summer in Grand Teton. She came back the following winter and has lived in the greater Yellowstone area ever since. Much of her work for the National Park Service and other agencies has focused on owls.

For a few nights each February, she straps on her skis and cruises the snowy plateaus around Yellowstone, listening for owls. She has captured and banded more than 4,000 of the nocturnal birds, including dozens tracked as part of an annual winter survey in the park.

Red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons are among Duffy’s favorite birds of prey. But for her, the ultimate raptor is the merlin, a small species of falcon known for its fierce and aggressive aerial maneuvers.

“After I die, I want to come back as a merlin,” she said.

Before Sunday’s field trip, visitors are invited to a brief presentation at Fishing Bridge to learn about raptor identification and Duffy’s work as a volunteer for the Yellowstone Raptor Initiative.

Recruiting experienced birders and park visitors to help identify migratory hawks and other raptors is an important way to help park researchers monitor birds living in and moving through Yellowstone, she said.

“It is definitely science, and it’s so vital because of the many species of birds here,” Duffy said. “We need everybody paying attention.”

If you go…

The public is invited to The Hayden Valley Hawk Watch beginning with a raptor identification presentation at 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. Participants will meet at 11 a.m. at a turnout located 6.6 miles south of Canyon Junction and nine miles north of Fishing Bridge Junction to help spot and identify hawks and other raptors. Call Katy Duffy at 307-699-2696 for more information.

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