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Become a raptor expert, starting tonight

Imagine squinting at the sky as a hawk circles overhead, nodding your head, and casually announcing, “Yep, that’s a red-tailed.”

Impressing people with hawk identification skills is something you can start learning tonight at a talk about raptors on the San Juan Ridge.

“What you’ll learn is the art of (B.S.-ing) and false confidence,” joked Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in Marin County.



Fish will give a slide show and talk titled “Learning the Lives of Hawks.” He’ll touch on a wide variety of topics, including raptor identification, migration and conservation issues.

Fish said 19 different types of raptor live in Nevada County, including the turkey vulture – “kind of a token raptor.”




It doesn’t have talons that can pick things up, but instead has turkey-like feet (hence the name). The same is true of its cousin, the California condor. “They actually can’t carry things away,” Fish said.

While the condor is the poster child for species tottering on the edge of extinction, the news isn’t all bad in the raptor world.

“Peregrine falcons have increased tremendously,” Fish said. They’ve been taken off the federal Endangered Species list, he said, and more and more peregrines are counted each year at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, located in sight of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The observatory has been in business for 20 years, keeping track of migrating raptors. But that’s not really enough time to draw any overall conclusions about how California’s raptors populations are doing, Fish said.

“We’re just getting our bearings,” he said. “Call me in 20 more years, and I’ll have a lot of information for you.”

So how do you identify a red-tailed hawk in flight?

The giveaway is black crescents on the underside of each wing where it meets the shoulder, Fish said. Only red-tailed hawks have these markings, called patagial marks.

For a lifelike drawing of a red-tailed hawk, you can always look at the label on a bottle of Redtail Ale, a popular beer brewed in Mendocino County. The brewers consulted with Fish to make sure their beer label looked accurate.

“They’ve done a good job,” he said.

WHAT: Raptor talk

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight

WHERE: North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, 17894 Tyler Foote Crossing Road.


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