Norcal Birding


Passion. Experience. Diligence.

About NorCal Birding

Are you looking for a personal bird guide in the San Francisco Bay Area region of northern California to help find that specialty species or nemesis bird? Look no further.  My name is Ryan Phillips and I am a birder, educator, biologist, and researcher who is excited to share the unique avian fauna of northern California through unique birding excursion opportunities. I can accommodate any and all types of birders; expert, novice, intermediate, casual, lister, specialty seeker, or however you categorize yourself. I am here to show you birds in the richest bird state in the United States and the local bird hotspots. I can customize any type of birding excursion for you. I started NorCal Birding to fulfill my passion for birding and to share my knowledge about birds while exploring spectacular landscapes with people that share the same passion. Contact me today to plan your excursion. 

About Me

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Me tracking Tule Elk with my mother at 5 years old.

Me tracking Tule Elk with my mother at 5 years old.

Ryan Phillips

The naturalist, John Muir, inspired by Alexander von Humboldt’s ecological theories, once said, ‘when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’ Having been in the field since I was born, as my mother tracked tule elk across the California landscape during her graduate research in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s, I had a comfort and a strong affinity for the outdoors and I too began to see what John Muir and Alexander von Humboldt observed as they explored nature and all its symbiotic relationships. My childhood was not your normal childhood, as I spent most of my time outdoors learning about the biological world. I was born in Santa Cruz, California and grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but currently reside with my wife, Wendy, and daughter, Farrah in Campbell.

I always had a passion and calling to study the ecological interactions of species. My life-long bond to nature and biodiversity grew stronger when I lived in Costa Rica, Central America, as a twelve year old, while my mother taught a study abroad program about environmental science. I watched flocks of the spectacular scarlet macaw as they made their daily flight from their foraging grounds to roosting grounds. I witnessed awe-inspiring resplendent quetzals foraging in groups on avocados. I watched the green and black poison dart frogs’ move through the rainforest floor, which I had only seen previously in books and documentaries. All of these childhood experiences kindled my passion for the biological sciences and made me the biologist I am today.

My Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology with a specialization in Ornithology from the University of California at Davis secured me a field biologist position and returned me back to the tropics in 2004.  I accepted a position with The Peregrine Fund in Belize, Central America, working on the Harpy Eagle Restoration Project. While living in Belize, I witnessed firsthand the thoughtless persecution of species and ecosystems and quickly realized how critical education is for conservation. Thirteen of our seventeen captive-reared eagles that we released into the wild were shot and killed. The local people had misconceptions about the species and they believed that these eagles ‘stole’ their chickens and would also kill their children. Unfortunately, these local people were not being hired to participate in this research; further alienating them from science and disconnecting them from the environment. After leaving the Peregrine Fund, I felt a void in my heart and thought that if I left, the Belize raptors would continue to be persecuted resulting in the loss of species. 

As a result, I co-founded the Belize Raptor Research Institute (BRRI) now the Belize Bird Conservancy, a non-profit organization that gives the local people an opportunity to be trained in wildlife research and conservation. I served as the non-profit’s Executive Director since its inception in 2008 until 2016, which honed my skills in how to be a leader, supervise staff, and prepare students for graduate studies. Upon returning from Belize to California in 2007, I had a clearer perception about conservation issues and learned that education is critical for a successful conservation project. This inspired me to go outside of my comfort zone and teach wildlife science by reaching a larger and younger audience through education. I never imagined that I would be an educator as I had always wanted to be conducting wildlife-related field research and did not have any prior teaching experience. As a result, I was privileged to be hired as adjunct faculty at De Anza College in the Environmental Studies Department and was later appointed as the Program Coordinator of the Wildlife Science Technician Program, where I am currently employed. Pursuing this teaching position has allowed me to combine the classroom and the field studies courses as a way to impassion and inspire students about conducting research. In the process, I have been able to show that science is not intimidating, but exciting—as it is truly a discovery and exploration of questions.

Since attending UC Davis in 2004, I have been conducting scientific research on primarily birds. My specialization is in raptor biology, where I have worked with many enigmatic neotropical species that have had never been studied until my research, including: the Solitary Eagle, Hook-billed Kite, Stygian Owl, and the Ornate Hawk-Eagle. I have published numerous peer-reviewed papers related to bird ecology and have presented at various scientific conferences in the United States and internationally. Along with my research background I have taught fourteen different courses in Environmental Science over the past eight years at De Anza College. In 2018, I was started a position as a Wildlife Biologist for the City of Mountain View. My experiences as a biologist and teacher have been rewarding and given me important skill sets, but to enhance my career in this field my next step is to pursue a graduate program.

I am particularly interested in bird ecology, specifically movement patterns, human interactions, and symbiotic interactions, as it relates to wildlife conservation while utilizing new technologies in wildlife science such as Geographic Information Systems and radio-telemetry. I am currently in a Graduate Program at San Jose State University where my research is on the raptor migration in Belize, which fills a void of knowledge of the Nearctic-Neotropical raptor migration system while shedding light on new migratory species, including the recently discovered migration of the Hook-billed Kite.

I started NorCal Birding to fulfill my passion for birding and to share my knowledge about birds while exploring spectacular landscapes with people that share the same passion. I have lead bird tours throughout Belize, as well as California where I co-lead for Let's Go Birding and Los Gatos Birdwatcher and have lead trips for San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and other groups. Also, I am sector leader for the Calero-Morgan Hill Christmas Bird Count. I have inspired many new birders to the birdwatching (aka birding) world including many students. I hope to meet you and share my passion by giving you a memorable and rewarding birding experience. 



University of California, Davis
Bachelor of Science, 2004
Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology with a specialization in Ornithology

San Jose State University
Master of Science, Candidate
Environmental Studies