Allen Fish is a man of diverse interests and passions, but being director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory for the past three decades has given him license to engage many of those: spending time outside; learning about birds, bugs, and plants; writing and story-telling; being around interesting, passionate people; science education; wildlife protection; and raptors.
Allen was born and raised on the Peninsula, but spent most of his summers as a child in the Sierra Nevada, where his extended family managed a biological reserve for the University of California. He graduated from UC Davis with a degree in zoology and then worked for several years conducting bird studies for various federal agencies. In 1985, as he was returning to UC Davis for graduate study in science education, he heard about a brand new three-year raptor banding program at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and applied to work there. He was hired and has never left.
Under Allen’s leadership, the program morphed into the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, a well-respected nonprofit program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy that carries out scientific research, public education, and informed advocacy for raptors in cooperation with the National Park Service. With a permanent staff of three, six seasonal biologists, and a corps of 300 volunteers dedicated to tracking the state’s largest raptor migration at Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, GGRO is a recognized leader in both raptor research and the rapidly growing field of citizen science. Allen and his team have developed protocols for banding, counting, and tracking raptors, and published over 35 papers in academic journals that have contributed significantly to the world’s understanding of raptor migration and behavior.
But GGRO isn’t primarily an academic institution; public outreach and education to spread the raptor gospel is the heart of organization’s mission: More than 10,000 people visit the “Hawkwatch” program’s raptor count on Hawk Hill every fall, including school groups from around the Bay Area. In addition, Allen and his team fan out to make presentations to a wide range of educational institutions, and community groups. Allen himself has written numerous articles about raptors, taught classes in raptor biology, led raptor tours for the California Academy of Sciences, and served as host for the 2015 annual conference of the Raptor Research Foundation. He is also a cofounder of Raptors Are The Solution (R.A.T.S.), a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to educating the public about the dangers to wildlife (particularly predators such as raptors) posed by the use of rat poison in the environment. A resident of Berkeley, Allen also loves old string instruments, dragonflies, his wife, and his two teens.
Read about our other 2016 Local Heroes:
- Andrea Mackenzie, Conservation Action
- Naftali Moed, Youth Engagement
- Malcolm Margolin, Bay Nature Hero Award