They don’t call Dan Rauch “Dan the Bird Man” for nothing. As a DC Department of Energy & Environment wildlife biologist, he’s one of the city’s most prominent animal experts, with a particular focus on the feathered. If you follow the creature beat, you’ve probably seen Rauch’s name in the news—he’s the go-to quote when it comes to viral animal stories that involve bald-eagle feuds or ultra-rare bobcat sightings.
Rauch is actually one of nine biologists working for the department, four of whom focus on land animals and five on fish. He grew up on his family’s farm in Upper Marlboro and has been on the job ten years, having previously worked at the National Zoo (“a lot of panda stuff,” he says).
But what exactly does a full-time DC wildlife biologist do? “You never know what you’re going to see,” says Rauch, who works out of the department’s office in NoMa but can more often be found wandering around the wilds of the city wearing the green T-shirt that serves as the biologists’ uniform. There’s no typical routine. On the day we talked, a fellow city biologist was testifying before the DC Council about why the brown bat should be the District’s official mammal. (As of press time, the council had yet to act on that suggestion.)
When Rauch took the gig, he was a bit skeptical. “I thought I was going to be dealing with pigeon troubles and house sparrows and crows,” he says. “It’s much more than that.” He has been called to extract a nest of ospreys from a soon-to-be-dismantled crane at the Wharf, chase a trapped hawk through the Metro, rescue an injured bald eagle from train tracks, and assist the Canadian Embassy with a mallard and ducklings found on its roof. He has even taken primatologist Jane Goodall to meet a bald-eagle chick at the National Arboretum. (“She patted me on the head and made ooh ooh ooh noises, which she said was a chimpanzee goodbye.”)
Operating in a city is quite different than being a biologist at a national park. An urban system changes more quickly than a rural one, Rauch says, and animals and humans are competing for the same resources: “It’s a much more intimate relationship with your field site.” So what is Rauch’s favorite local animal? He’s particularly fond of cedar waxwings, bufflehead ducks, and bald eagles—which, in case you’re not up on your ornithology, are all winged creatures. He is the bird man, after all.
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Washingtonian.