Raptor Rapture

By Isabelle Jeng, Environmental Journalist

Photos by Keith Willis. Instagram:keithwillisncl

“ I experienced joy, wonder, and tons of learning through the raptor project, all if it for science. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” 

—Liz Kennedy, San Pedro

In February, Liz Kennedy, of San Pedro, volunteered as a nest observer with the Friends of Griffith Park’s (FoGP) Raptor Study program. The following month, she drove to Elysian Park to make her first recorded observation of a nest of red-tailed hawks. 

“It was a great nest,” she said, “because you could stand above it on a trail and look down on it.” 

The LA Raptor Study covers six sub-regions (See map at linked site.)

A self-taught nature enthusiast, Liz had gone on plenty of trips with Audubon over the years in the South Bay and was also a member of the California Native Plants Society. She heard about the volunteer program from her colleague, and as a bird watcher, was interested. 

After an orientation, she would visit her assigned nest every other week, from March until mid-June. Volunteers are to observe nesting activity for a minimum of 15 minutes; however, Liz often stayed longer, recording the date and time, how long she observed, the condition of the nest, and what the birds were doing – including unusual activity. As stated on the FoGP site, “[T]his data-gathering is vital to biologists because it represents a specific, comprehensive dataset of raptor habits over multiple years…By documenting and tracking raptor nests across Los Angeles, we hope to understand how ecological dynamics change from year to year in the natural and built areas of Los Angeles, in particular how human activity is impacting wildlife here.” 

  Between April and June, after new nests are located and basic data is recorded on substrate and tree species, volunteers monitor egg incubation, chicks, and fledging, as birds leave the nest by the end of June. One of the last times she saw them, the babies were active, exercising their wings and getting ready to fly.

In this hemisphere and latitude, raptors’ nesting activity and egg-laying occurs in the spring. “The nest was right above the connector between the 5 and the 110,” she said. “It was oud and noisy, but it was a great spot. I saw other birds, and since it was spring and there was a lot of blooming mustard and other wildflowers. It’s a beautiful park with beautiful areas and there are lots of native plants on the hillside I was above.” 

The Raptor Study Program is always in need of volunteers. This year, there were many nests that could not be monitored due to a volunteer shortage. Liz says, “As citizen science projects go, this is a small time-commitment, but it’s also very interesting and doesn’t extend very much into the year. I experienced joy, wonder, and tons of learning through the raptor project, all if it for science. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” 

Anyone who also notices a new nest in their neighborhood is encouraged to reach out to the raptor study Outreach Coordinator, Nurit Katz, at raptors@friendsofgriffithpark.org, or call or text (818) 384-9493. 

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