Let’s Talk Birdie

Let’s Talk Birdie

Specifically–Raptors. Why is this order of birds so fascinating? Granted, I enjoy watching the cardinals, yellow finches, and other song birds eating at the window feeder while I sip my morning coffee. People pull over in their vehicles and gaze, unmoved for several minutes (or sometimes hours) when they see an eagle or hawk. This spring I shared a link to the Platte River Eagle cam…not many other birds receive this kind of attention and admiration. So what is it? Their fearsome cry? Their majestic glide? Their almost prehistoric features? Maybe it’s their secretive nature–sightings of many raptors are rare. So, we stick a camera in their nest just to keep an eye on them and revel at the mystery of the species.

There is another group of people, and “fascinated” is probably the wrong word to use with this group. “Threatened” is probably more accurate, but I can’t really say because I do not have any of the unifying factors that make up this other group of raptor-watchers. Now, before I go any further, I would just like to say that all of the blog posts here are meant to be informative. I wouldn’t say I am neutral, but the intent is not to scold people or cause argument with opinions that are the opposite or disagree with mine.

Okay. Now, I never realized the threat that livestock farmers and gamekeepers feel from the raptor order of birds (Falconiformes, which is divided into six families). By livestock, I specifically mean chickens. I guess I can somewhat identify with this group as my family has chickens. Free-range chickens can often become stranded in the middle of a field without cover. Yikes. Chickens may not have a reputation of being intelligent, but they can sense danger and will look for cover–I’ve seen the family chickens run into the coop or duck under the wooden structure in their yard when they feel threatened. “Free range is great for the chickens but also puts them at risk because you’ve concentrated prey in one location. Easy fixes include providing cover for the chickens during raptor migration season when you have more birds coming through. Cover includes trees, bushes, and awning/roofs,” explains one ornithologist. There are a few instances about free-range farmers shooting at raptors to ward them off. Warning shots can sometimes hit the mark though, and probably a time consuming management practice.

The link here is a story about raptors in Scotland and their disappearance around game lands.  What solutions are available for those game land managers whose “livestock” doesn’t follow domestic animal practices? Game bird hunting is a popular sport, especially in open prairie lands (like South Dakota) where many game birds live (pheasants, grouse, etc.), but birds of prey are quite intelligent. I suspect that once they find a hot spot of prey, they continue to visit that area and pass along the knowledge to offspring. Back to the original question–what are the solutions? Would providing man-made cover take away from the hunting experience, and would that be practical? If I knew, I would probably be writing a “did you know” educational piece rather than a “what can we do” piece. For us backyard chicken farmers that wish to free-range, providing cover is a good solution. It may not be a perfect solution, but neither is farming–loss happens.

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