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I recently returned from my near annual pilgrimage to Veracruz, Mexico, to see the fall hawk migration at the biggest hawk migration site in the world.

The area on the Gulf Coast of Mexico near Veracruz City has become well-known in recent years for its astounding hawk migration, a phenomenon that has become known as the “Veracruz River of Raptors.”

In a typical year, millions of raptors are counted at the two counting sites just outside of Veracruz City, with the top species being Turkey Vulture, Swainson’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Mississippi Kite. In fact, if you are lucky, you can see hundreds of thousands of individual birds pass by in a single day — it's hard to top that!

Although the hawk migration is worth a trip to Veracruz in and of itself, the area immediately surrounding Veracruz City has much to offer the visiting naturalist, which is another reason I keep going back:

• Within a few hours’ drive of the city are archaeological sites such as Cempoala and Quiahuiztlan, which provide a look into the historical past of other civilizations as well as good birding. Beaches with gulls, terns and shorebirds are nearby as well as an array of forested habitats.

• To the south, there are savannah habitats where the Double-striped Thick-knee and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture can be found.

• As you go west and up into the mountains past the state capital of Xalapa, you quickly enter magnificent pine forests with numerous migrants such as Townsend’s Warbler and resident species such as Gray Silky-Flycatcher and Black-headed Siskin.  On our recent Conservancy member tour, we found 226 species of birds in just over a week!

Perhaps the best thing about visiting Veracruz on a tour, however, is that by doing this, you can support the excellent conservation efforts of the conservation group Pronatura Veracruz. In addition to running tours to see the River of Raptors and other great birding areas in the state of Veracruz, Pronatura has implemented a series of excellent conservation projects for wetlands and forests and is responsible for the hawk counting efforts. By taking a tour, you not only get your fill of hawks and other birds, but you directly support conservation efforts in this critically important migratory crossroads of the Americas. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!

-- Text by Dave Mehlman, Cool Green Science Blog