Flight of Dedication: Volunteers Devote 25 Years of Service

July 21, 2009


Golden Gate Raptor Observatory Celebrates Citizen Science at California’s Major Raptor Migration Site

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”—Margaret Mead

San Francisco, CA—More than 30,000 birds of prey—hawks, eagles, falcons, and vultures—pass over the Marin Headlands each fall in California’s greatest raptor migration. And for over 25 years, hundreds of Bay Area volunteers have tracked the numbers and movements of these magnificent birds, often considered indicators of healthy ecosystems, and set up the first and only bird of prey monitoring system in California at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO). The GGRO, in cooperation with the National Park Service, is a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Over 300 volunteers participate each year in the GGRO’s migration studies as hawk counters, banders, and radiotrackers, and collectively contribute over 40,000 hours annually. Hawk counters keep a consistent daily tally of the raptors appearing over the Marin Headlands from August through November. This effort is now the longest kept record of raptor migration numbers in the state.

On peak flight days, occurring from mid September to mid October, counters may record more than 1,000 raptor sightings a day, seen at a rate of 150 hawks per hour. Quieter days may garner as few as 10 or 20 hawks per hour. Over the long term, these daily counts help volunteers gather important information about raptor population and travel trends.

Trained volunteer banders spend their days in a wooden blind with nets nearby, with which they catch hawks. Once caught, a hawk is fitted with a numbered aluminum bracelet, measured, weighed, and released within 20 minutes. Studying a hawk in hand allows banders to note the bird’s condition or state of health. Volunteers also report the banding experience to be a deeply moving experience. “The best paintings and all the pixels in the world can’t capture the beauty of these marvelous creatures seen up close,” said long-time volunteer, Bill Barnaby.

Overall, more than 1,500 volunteers have participated in the GGRO’s fall raptor migration monitoring since the organization’s inception in the early 1980s. In addition to counting and banding raptors, volunteers have radiotracked hawks all over California, invented new research techniques, delivered interpretive talks, discovered new migration sites, and monitored hundreds of Bay Area raptor nests.

“GGRO volunteers bring an unbelievable range of talent and experience to the process of studying birds of prey,” said GGRO Research Director Buzz Hull. “There are other hawk migration studies in the United States, but the passion and commitment of this pioneer volunteer group at the GGRO has been truly remarkable.”

While some GGRO volunteers have gone on to careers in bird conservation, others, like hawk counter Keith Gress have continued to contribute one day every other week for 13 years. “Being part of the GGRO, and therefore the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy model, is really cool when you think about the scale of the work being accomplished. I think everyone should volunteer to do something for their community,” said Gress.

Below are details from the planned 25th Anniversary Celebration of GGRO. For more information, call GGRO 415 331 0730, or email ggro@parksconservancy.org, or visit our website www.parksconservancy.org

Celebrate Raptors—A Series of Raptor Biology Talks

  • Thursday, Sept 10, 7 to 9 pm
    Bud Anderson, Director, Falcon Research Group
    “Satellite Tracking Peregrines throughout the Americas” 
    Location: San Francisco Zoo
  • Thursday, Oct 15, 7 to 9 pm
    David Mindell, Curator of Ornithology, California Academy of Sciences
    “Falconiformes Discovery: Field, Lab, and Conservation”
    Location: California Academy of Sciences, a NIGHTLIFE event
  • Wednesday, Nov 18, 7 to 9 pm
    William Clark, author, Peterson Field Guide to Hawks
    “Eagle Quest: Seeking the World’s Eagles”
    Location: Chapel, Cavallo Point

GGRO Open House and Raptor Fest
Oct 24 25 10 am to 4 pm, Ft Cronkhite at Rodeo Beach

Oct 24, Saturday: Scientific Displays, Radiotelemetry Demonstrations
Live Non releasable Raptors, Kid Crafts, GGRO Product Sales
Visits to Hawk Hill, Banding Demonstrations, Raptor Art

Oct 25, Sunday: All the above and the GGRO Symposium
Talks on GGRO science and conservation about what we‘ve learned over 25 years. Speakers from UC Davis, SF State University, UC Berkeley, presenting results of their research with GGRO.

Media Contact:

David Shaw
Director of Communications & Marketing
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
415 561 3064


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