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The Fifth Year Griffith Park Raptor Study Begins to Take Flight

CATEGORY: Current Events · Urban Wild |
On Feb 20, 2021

Today, Saturday, Feb. 20 marked the opening of the 2021 Raptor Study with a Zoom training session featuring study coordinators Courtney McCammon and Dr. Dan Cooper, moderated by FoGP president Gerry Hans. The session was well-attended as participants were given information and background gathered during our years-long study. During the 2020 study, Covid-19 created a boon of nests identified and raptors fledged as many wild species were allowed to proliferate sans human interference. This phenomena was seen citywide as rabbits, ground squirrels and other species were observed on lawns in Griffith Park and scattered across LA neighborhoods.

Dan Cooper opened today’s event by discussing training goals/study area and monitored species. The list of raptors and owls includes red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks and new to the study in 2020, a peregrine falcon and a couple of American kestrels. Great horned and barn owl nests are also important raptor species being studied. An interesting point about great horned owls (Bubo virginianus)  – this species tends to take over nests of other raptors as well as nests of ravens and crows.

Previous Raptor Study takeaways:

Raptors are at the top of the food chain, and have no real “enemies”, except other raptors. Raptors are great controllers of urban pests including mice, rats and fox squirrels. However, since they consume mice and rats, they’re prone to rodenticide poisoning which also impacts nesting young raptors. Raptors also provide insights into how urbanization and human activity impact these and other species. Some notable observations from the 2020 study – Cooper’s hawks left tell-tale signs of nesting that can be spotted on the ground – whitewash on roads and vehicles, plus down which can be seen on nests. Red-tailed hawk nests on the other hand are identified by watching these raptors glide high in the skies and then swoop into tall trees they use to gain a “height” advantage.

The results from the 2020 study were quite impressive as over 300 nests/territories were visited during the season – a huge increase over the 2019 study. In compiling this information, there were nearly 190 active nests with a remarkable 93% fledge rate. Red-tailed hawks led the charge with 80 nests identified, Cooper’s hawks followed with 76 nests while red-shouldered hawks and great horned owls weighed in with 32 nests (17 RSHA/15 GHOW). Also, several American kestrels and Peregrine falcons were included this past year.

Although LA Rec and Parks has been very supportive of the ongoing survey, there are some protocols that must be adhered to while observing in Griffith Park or other city/county parks. Volunteers must follow ALL park rules, and it’s important to let a friend or family member know where you are in case of any emergency. Please keep the Ranger phone number with you while in LA City Parks 323-644-6661.  Residential areas require permission from homeowners to enter properties, so never assume you can go onto private property without consent. Courtney and Dan also suggested that dogs not accompany volunteers as they might disturb nesting raptors. And if a you as a volunteer invites a friend along to observe nesting activity, please avoid loud conversations while in the vicinity of the nest.

We’re really excited by the number of volunteers taking part in this year’s study and hope this will add much more information to the extensive study currently being conducted.

For all who missed it, or would like some refresher information, the entire ZOOM presentation can be accessed here.

A recent article from the Ventura County Star discusses the broader implications gleaned from these studies.

photo: Gerry Hans



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