By Jay Coles, Exec. Director
In our last E-Newsletter in December I reported our end of year intake count of rescued animals. In a side note I expressed our concern regarding the increasing number of raptors that we are receiving each year. I have been with the Center now for four years and the rescue and intake of raptors has increased from 38 in 2013 to 133 in 2017. This year we have rescued or received 22 raptors in the first 45 days of the year.
Before I go farther into expressing my concerns, analyzing the possible causes, let me explain my attachment for these birds of prey. Years back my wife and built our home in a neighborhood that had a pair of nesting Bald Eagles. They have been a very prolific couple and we have been graced with watching, from our back porch, many eaglets taught to fly. But the Eagles are only one species of raptor I can regularly encounter from my porch. The list of regulars includes Red Tail, Cooper’s, Red Shoulder and Sharp Shinned Hawks, Osprey, Great Horned Owls as well as Barred Owls and Screech Owls and the vultures overhead. I have watched them hunt, fish, fight and mate. There is seldom a day that passes that I don’t see one or more perching near or flying overhead. My interest or obsession with raptors long precedes my engagement with the wildlife center. However, the numbers I am reporting in our newsletters is heightening my concern for the health and survival of these birds.
Why are so many raptors being injured?
1) Development is once again on the rise. Thousands of acres of natural habitat are being clear-cut for housing and commercial development. In rural Lexington and Richland similar tracts of what was traditionally farmland is also going to development. These were the hunting grounds for our raptors. If their food sources aren’t their, then they must find it elsewhere. This seems to be forcing both predator and prey into developed areas where more cars and trucks exist. If your food source is in or along the side of a road, you are much more likely to get struck by a vehicle while trying to catch it.
Why don’t these birds see the oncoming vehicle?
All raptors have incredible vision and can spot prey from great distances, however, once they spot their prey they must stay locked in on it because it is likely to move or is moving. If the raptor turns its head to look for traffic it will likely loose sight of the prey. This results in not eating and we know what the outcome is of missing a meal, especially when locating food gets more difficult.
2) With loss of natural habitat many raptors are adapting to more urban environments. Many older urban and suburban residential areas offer established old tree cover and lighter traffic. However, there are other dangers they must contend with like power lines, fences, domestic pets, toxins and poisons. This issue of poisons has recently come to my attention as people have contacted me to report larger than normal numbers of dead raptors in their neighborhood. At the same time, I hear reports of rodent infestations. Rodents are a primary food source for raptors. What is the connection?
Follow me on this. If you leave food out for domestic pets or feral animals then you are going to attract rodents. If you then put out poison to kill the rodents and they eat it, they don’t die immediately. If the poisoned rodent is eaten by a raptor, you have now poisoned the raptor. Thus, rodent problem reported in the same neighborhood as high number of dead raptors.
3) Generally, raptors are high in the food chain and are not prey to other predator and we don’t often see a raptor having been injured by another raptors. But, with pressure from reduced habitats, and competition for food this could be occurring. Last summer I was called to rescue an Osprey that had a near severed wing. Based on the location where the Osprey was found and the type of injury, it appeared the injury had occurred in flight. Perhaps this had been a territory fight with an Eagle.
There are lots of other causes for the injury and death of our raptors. We have rescued several hawks in the past year with gun shot wounds. Several raptor have come it with electrical burns. And there are raptors that, for what ever reason, don’t learn to hunt well enough to sustain themselves.
I conclusion, I must admit that while there are more people, roads, houses and more traffic for these birds to navigate there are also more compassionate people willing to stop, help and report these injuries. At Carolina Wildlife Center we spend a great deal of time and effort to educate our community about the importance of caring for these and all wild animals. We may be seeing higher numbers because more people have learned that we are here to help and who are willing to do their part.