Hawk watcher and resident biologist Andrew Sharp stands next to his spotting scope, which is four times more powerful than binoculars. C. Thacher Carter/Times Record file photo

Fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in ecology from Utah State University, Andrew Sharp was figuring out his next steps when he found a job as Bradbury Mountain’s official hawk watcher for the 2021 migration season this past spring. The Chesterfield, Virginia, native just wrapped up a three-month, six-days-a-week stint perched atop the Pownal peak watching for hawks, eagles, vultures and other birds of prey for an annual data collection project that started 14 years ago.

Sharp, who was recently hired as a wildlife biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers in Mississippi, said, “Now that I’ve won the lottery and found permanent biologist work,” he is passing on the spotting scope to next season’s hawk watcher.

Name: Andrew Sharp

Age: 27

Lives: Boston, soon to be Mississippi

What inspired you to study wildlife biology? I grew up reading nature books and watching Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin on TV, that really inspired me as a child. As I grew older, I knew that I wanted to become a wildlife biologist of some variety so that I could interact with animals and nature and do my part to advance conservation. In college, I took an ornithology class, which got me into birding. After college, my main wildlife-related skill was bird identification so I applied for a seasonal job counting birds in the White Mountains, and from there, it’s been bird job after bird job!


Is hawk watching literally what it sounds like: watching for hawks? What about it do you enjoy the most? Hawk watching just refers to the activity of going somewhere to observe raptor migration. People do that all the time for fun. Official “hawk watches” are a special case because we adhere to specific protocols that we repeat year after year, and all the data is reported to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Counting migrating raptors is so fun! You stand up there and the birds come to you! You never know what will rise up over the horizon and head your way. For example, this spring we counted TWO black vultures, which are quite rare this far north. (We see loads of turkey vultures.) There is an unpredictability to hawk watching that makes it fun. We have plenty of very slow, boring days, but then we also have days where you get up to the summit at 9 a.m. and the raptors are already streaming past. Some days we see only a handful of raptors, then we have days where we count over 1,000 migrating raptors.

What’s an experience you had raptor-watching that you’ll always remember? I think my most memorable experience at Bradbury this spring was when I saw a peregrine falcon fly by the summit with a GPS transmitter attached to its back. I reached out to some folks and found out that it’s a female that winters in Miami and breeds in Greenland! Another awesome experience was seeing and hearing a flock of sandhill cranes fly past the summit. That’s a species that gathers in enormous numbers in parts of the country, but is still quite uncommon in Maine.

How did raptor watching at Bradbury Mountain this spring compare to other raptor-watching experiences you’ve had? Bradbury Mountain is different from many other hawk watches. For one, it’s very busy with people! On a nice Saturday, hundreds of people would be hanging out on the summit, which was a great opportunity to interact with folks and teach people about raptors. Another interesting thing about Bradbury is that there is a large population of local bald eagles. This can make things difficult, as it’s important to distinguish between migrating individuals and individuals that live locally.

What’s something that you found special about Maine’s wildlife and environment? Maine is such a beautiful state with an enormous diversity of habitats! From the coastal plain to the boreal forest, the mountains to the bogs, Maine is an amazing place for wildlife and being outdoors. The northern-ness of Maine also means that there are some really cool bird species like pine grosbeak, common redpolls and red crossbills that are regularly seen in the wintertime. Those are birds that are quite rare further south.

What is one way that we as humans can be better co-habitants with birds? For most people, the No. 1 way you can help birds out is by keeping your cats indoors. It’s such an easy thing but it makes a world of difference. Rigorous scientific studies have estimated that outdoor cats (feral and pets) kill between 2 to 4 billion birds every year in the United States alone. That’s a lot! Cats are amazing predators, and they’re especially deadly during the spring and summer when there are baby birds that are still in the nest or have left the nest but still can’t fly really well. It’s also better for cats; cats that spend time outdoors live significantly shorter lives on average. With songbird populations showing alarming declines in the last 50 years, you can make such a positive difference by choosing to keep your cats inside!

Another thing you can do to help birds is to avoid using poison to deal with rodents. Owls and hawks are commonly poisoned by eating dead and dying rodents that have consumed poison.

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