Faces of Duluth: Janelle Long

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Faces of Duluth provides the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer.

People have flocked to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory for more than 50 years to learn about and witness the amazing natural phenomenon of the fall bird migration. With one of the best places in the world to view the fall migration – and the picturesque backdrop of Lake Superior – Hawk Ridge offers the perfect place to find a bird’s-eye view of Duluth while taking time to reconnect with nature. We sat down with Janelle Long, who’s been the Executive Director of Hawk Ridge for over 15 years, to talk about how she, along with Hawk Ridge staff and volunteers, help people have a better understanding of birds and conservation efforts.

What’s your Duluth story?

I grew up in Greenfield, Wisc., where my favorite place to be was outside experiencing and playing in nature. I moved to Minnesota in 2003 for a cooperative graduate naturalist program through the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. During this time, I experienced Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory as both a visitor and volunteer. I joined Hawk Ridge as Executive Director in 2007 to help manage the nonprofit and carry out the mission through our research, education and stewardship efforts. Birds are all around us, and it seems that everyone has a bird story to share, making them great connectors of people and nature.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is interacting with staff, volunteers and visitors, especially at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve during the fall migration. I really enjoy meeting and reconnecting with people, hearing their stories about Hawk Ridge and watching the beautiful birds make their journeys south. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve and 50 years of raptor research and education. It was so inspiring to hear from folks across generations, from founders who helped build Hawk Ridge to the students who are learning at Hawk Ridge today. I feel honored to be part of such a dedicated organization and to help Hawk Ridge continue growing into the future. For those who want to learn more about supporting the cause, visit our website for details about becoming a member or volunteering.

What would you recommend for a first-time visitor to Hawk Ridge?

I would recommend coming to Hawk Ridge during the peak of fall bird migration (minus rainy/foggy weather) between September 1-October 31. We have education and visitor services staff and volunteers available to point out birds and teach about migration, along with binoculars available, special programs, hikes, an activity card for kids, live bird demonstrations and more! We have a great visitor’s guide to help visitors plan.  

Hawk Ridge is well known for the number and diversity of birds that can be seen, especially raptors (birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles, falcons, owls). During the fall migration, we typically see 15-20 different raptor species and over 100 species of other birds at Hawk Ridge. Our website has links to the sources where we document the daily records of birds seen.

When is the optimal time for visitors to see the migrations?

Songbirds (passerines) are primarily early morning migrants starting at sunrise. Raptors are typically more mid-day migrants, so we recommend between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. as a good time to view raptor migration. Weather is also a factor, as rain and fog will delay migration while north/northwest winds can be favorable for migration. The weekends are typically busier with general public visiting, and the weekdays often welcome school groups.

Do visitors need to be avid birders to enjoy Hawk Ridge? What is there to do besides birding?

Hawk Ridge welcomes people of all ages and abilities – and all birding levels, too. Our staff and volunteers are very knowledgeable and passionate about birds and enjoy sharing and teaching about them. Naturalists are interpreting the migration daily for the general public, and free public programs are offered each weekend.

Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is a 365-acre beautiful natural area that visitors can enjoy. In addition to birding, it’s a great spot for hiking with more than four miles of trails. Visitors can also enjoy the scenic East Skyline Parkway/Seven Bridges Road for other outdoor recreation, such as biking, running, dog walking, photography and more.

Is Hawk Ridge a good place to go with children?

Hawk Ridge is a great place to visit with children! In September and October our staff and volunteers offer a variety of fun activities at our kid’s cart. Kids can become a Junior Birder, create bird arts and crafts, participate in a nature scavenger hunt and even learn about bird banding by getting banded themselves.

Is there equipment or supplies you recommend people bring to maximize enjoyment at Hawk Ridge?

If you plan to come up to view and enjoy the migration, I recommend bringing a comfy portable chair and dressing for the weather – layers are helpful! We do have binoculars available for use and a merchandise trailer with drinks/snacks. Portable toilets are available on-site. If you plan to hike, be sure to bring sturdy shoes, a water bottle and anything else to stay safe and comfortable, as many of our trails are rocky/rugged.

What do you love about Duluth?

Duluth is a great place to live and great destination to visit, with an amazing community of people and places to enjoy, especially outdoors. I love playing both tour guide and tourist with our family and friends, visiting parks, local shops, art galleries, concerts, sporting events, the Lincoln Park Craft District, the Lakewalk, Lake Superior Zoo, Great Lakes Aquarium, Canal Park and more. Some of my favorite things I enjoy are being on the fields watching my kids play sports, birding (in addition to Hawk Ridge, Park Point and the St. Louis River Estuary offer great viewing) and eating a delicious dinner at Sir Ben’s while listening to live music. I didn’t grow up in Duluth, but I’m so grateful my children were able to. We have built our careers, home and family here – we love Duluth for so many reasons.

Posted on August 7, 2023