Craig Nikitas distinctly remembers his first up-close encounter with a Peregrine falcon as an adolescent in Idaho. He was struck by the animal’s piercing gaze, its vivid plumage and adaptations honed through generations of evolution. It was the ultimate avian predator.
Nikitas, who has lived in San Francisco for more than four decades, spent his career working as an architect and urban planner. Upon retirement, he decided to dedicate his life to protecting and preserving these animals. He started Bay Raptor Rescue in 2015.
He’s become the guy that Bay Area animal control departments call when they need help handling trapped raptors and other birds of prey. Among his frequent haunts are BART stations, warehouses and the rafters above grocery stores.
Nikitas compares himself to a wildlife EMT who can safely capture the animals and release them or transport them to facilities that specialize in their care. Last year he saved 84 birds, in 2022 he’s on track for more than 100.
During a typical rescue effort, Nikitas heads out into the field armed with a net, a special wire cage and a couple of house sparrows, which he uses as lures and refers to as “co-workers.”
Cooper’s hawks are the main subject of his rescue attempts, but he’s also saved bald eagles, falcons and owls of all types. He related one particularly challenging rescue of an osprey on the Alameda waterfront that involved weeks of planning, a custom trap and a team of four.
“The first time I looked at a peregrine falcon, I just thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” Nikitas said. “Seeing these birds face to face was something I’ll never forget.”
Now, a half-century later, he finds himself inspiring and educating others about the need to protect these majestic creatures so that they may continue to soar high over San Francisco.
Photos by Morgan Ellis/The Standard
Getting into the mind of a raptor and understanding how they fly, hunt and think.
People who use rodenticides, they’re one of the worst things for the chain of life.
An inability to be self-analytical.
I come from those who are intellectually curious and scientifically minded.
Promote and preserve wildlife as best I can.