Golden Gate: A Birdwatchers' Paradise

The Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding areas are a prime spot for birdwatchers. Every autumn, thousands of migrating birds of prey appear over the Golden Gate. The Golden Gate Raptor Observatory tracks the birds to find out how they are faring.

Allan Fish, president of the Raptors Observatory, talked to "Good Morning America" about the group's mission and its importance below:

Wildlife preservation efforts like the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory are the proverbial "canaries in the coal mine." For well over a century, our societal approach to ecological disaster has been to keep a window cracked open and listen for train wrecks. We muck about with the environment, and we hope all will still be well.

It took well over a decade for us to notice that Peregrine Falcons had been eliminated from the eastern United States by our use of DDT in the 1940s and 50s. By using bird migration sites like the Golden Gate as bird population sensors, we have a chance of detecting a negative trend for a species well ahead of the train wreck.

Second, we bring hundreds of National Park Service volunteers together each autumn to count and band the hawks at the Marin Headlands. Over 25 years, we've learned that our Bay Area community shares a huge passion for migration-watching, for learning to identify the species of birds of prey, for banding these wild hawks and returning them to the wild. More than 280 volunteers contribute more than 40,000 hours annually to this raptor conservation effort, and the volunteers still think they are getting the best deal.

Why the Red-Tailed Hawk Is Important

The Red-Tailed Hawk occurs from desert to tundra, from Atlantic to Pacific. Redtails are happy hunting a variety of prey from small mammals to reptiles to birds, as it can catch them. Maybe because of its visibility to humans — soaring in our skies, perching on our telephone poles — Redtails are the most familiar raptor in the U.S.

The biggest challenge for all raptors' survival is habitat destruction, the simple loss of wildlands. And just in the last decade, scientists have started to examine and record the impacts of Global Climate Change on bird species. GCC is particular insidious as it may act through other classic causes of death or stress. For example, climate change may create greater numbers of mosquitoes in northern regions, causing a West Nile virus outbreak in a novel region where the hawks have no natural immunity to the disease.

Scientists have long regarded raptors as "sentinels" of the health of ecosystems. The logic is simple: as the habitat goes, so goes all that the hawk depends upon, mice, grass, soil, water and finally, so goes the hawk. A simple example would be that a local, nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons indicates that the local wetlands are healthy. My attraction to raptors is just a more simplified version of that. A Red-tailed Hawk flies overhead, and I'm happy for the day. It's like a headline for me: the world will be okay today — hawks are still here!

For more information on the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, visit www.ggro.org

To get involved with the Golden Gate National Parks conservation efforts, visit www.parksconservancy.org

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