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Life and Death on Alcatraz: Free USGS Bird Lecture on Oct. 29 at Fort Mason
Released: 10/25/2011 12:00:00 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119
Reston, VA 20192
Ben Young Landis 1-click interview
Phone: 916-616-9468

In partnership with: National Park Service

SAN FRANCISCO — It may seem like a barren, lifeless rock with only the haunting memories of the past, but a battle for survival continues each year on Alcatraz Island. 

This is the little-known story of birds nesting on "The Rock" — and also the topic of a free public lecture by U.S. Geological Survey biologists on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 at 1:30 p.m., hosted by the Golden Gate National Recreational Area at its Fort Mason office (Building 201) in San Francisco. 

The event is one of many scheduled by USGS as part of the first-ever Bay Area Science Festival. USGS biologists will show video footage of nesting Night-Herons taken from hidden cameras, and lead hands-on activities including dissecting raven "pellets" — regurgitated balls of fur and bones studied by biologists. 

"Tourists visiting Alcatraz see the famous prison right away, but in the spring and early summer, there are actually hundreds of birds nesting around the island, and hundreds more with nests hidden away in the trees, bushes and rock debris on the island," says USGS biologist Peter Coates, one of the speakers this Saturday. "We want to give kids and the public a peek at the hidden lives of these birds, and also give them a glimpse of what a biologist’s life is like." 

Isolated from the mainland, Alcatraz is a protected, prime nesting ground for many bird species, especially Black-crowned Night-Herons, California Gulls, Western Gulls, Snowy Egrets, and Brandt's Cormorants.  Each year these species return to Alcatraz, set up nesting territories, and attempt to raise a family despite threats from various predators, including a pair of Common Ravens that also nests on the island. 

Biologists from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center are studying these bird populations on behalf of the National Park Service, which manages Alcatraz Island as part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Of particular focus are the population trends of the Black-crowned Night-Heron, a secretive, twilight hunter, which feasts on fish in the shallows of San Francisco Bay. 

"Alcatraz is more than a historic landmark and a movie backdrop," says USGS biologist Roger Hothem, who will also speak on Saturday. "There’s a wild side to it, too." 

Seating is limited to the first 100 guests. Visitors can RSVP via Facebook at or email blandis@usgs.gov.


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