From the basement of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, voices chanted a traditional phrase, “Dark head, light bib, indistinct belly band. Dark head, light bib, indistinct belly band.”
Raptor biologist Bud Anderson opened his class on falcons and hawks with the attendees learning to identify the red-tailed hawk by repeating that phrase.
Anderson’s annual course meets every Thursday from 7-9 p.m for five weeks through January and February. He has been teaching this course on raptors in Bellingham and Seattle for over 30 years, Anderson said. The five-week course costs $175 to register.
After covering basic identification of raptors, Anderson began reciting from William Shakespeare. He said Shakespeare would have to be incredibly familiar with hawks to write the metaphors within “The Taming of the Shrew.”
For some attendees, Anderson’s class isn’t simply about raptors.
“I think it increases awareness of our surroundings and what we share,” Sue Sanderson said, a returning student of three years.
Taya Gray, Sanderson’s daughter, attended Anderson’s class for the first time.
“I lived out in the Midwest and I just moved back,” Gray said “One of the things I looked forward to about moving back was taking this class with her.”
Those who attend the class can go on field trips to known hawk territories with Anderson at Samish Flats and Skagit Flats. Anderson said he hopes they can see as many raptors as possible so students can practice their hawk identification skills.
“No long walks. None of this wandering around the marsh for three hours, freezing. I hate that,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to put you in front of as many birds as I possibly can.”
Anderson started a program with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport 16 years ago to capture and relocate raptors who are near the runways of the airport.
“The 737, the most common jet-liner at Sea-Tac, each engine is $12 million. You don’t want a red-tail flying through that for several reasons,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty tough on the red-tail.”
The planes can be grounded for weeks of maintenance, costing the airliners millions of dollars, Anderson said.
Anderson, who lives in Burlington, travels to Sea-Tac one day a week, trapping and relocating the hawks near the airport. From time to time, fellow hawk-trapper Susan Cottrell joins Anderson to help capture hawks at Sea-Tac.
Anderson’s program to capture and relocate raptors has expanded from Sea-Tac to the Vancouver International Airport and Portland International Airport. Bellair Charters volunteers their buses to transport Anderson’s captured raptors from Sea-Tac Airport to Burlington.
Attending Anderson’s raptor class in the early 1990s sparked Cottrell’s interest in hawks and lead her to launch a research project on avian keratin disorder.
Keratin production increases within the beaks of birds with the disorder. The increased keratin abnormally elongates the bird’s beaks making it difficult for them to tear up and eat their food. Many birds die because of starvation due to this disorder, Anderson said.
By collecting blood samples of red-tailed hawks and rough-legged hawks, Cottrell hopes her samples can be used by other hawk researchers to further knowledge on the disorder.
“It’s in about 18 orders of birds. Nobody knows what it is. We’ve spent a least a quarter million dollars in the past 20 years trying to figure out what it is,” Anderson said.
Rand Jack is a founding board member of the Whatcom Land Trust. He took Anderson’s class years ago. The land trust now sponsors Anderson’s class and Jack helped Anderson to find a venue and get the word out for the class.
“I consider it a privilege to have him in our community, teaching the class,” Jack said. “When I drive around the county, my wife says ‘Keep your eyes on the road.’ as I’m pointing out a hawk.”
Anderson asked those returning to his class for the second time to give new classmates advice on hawk watching.
When a class member answered quietly, Anderson echoed it loudly: “Start looking up.”
For more information on Anderson’s raptor class, you can follow this link.