Birds of prey may seem invulnerable since they are superb hunters and powerful predators. In reality, however, there are many risks to raptors that threaten their populations. Many birds of prey are highly vulnerable and may be even less adaptable than smaller bird species when threatened.
Threats to birds of prey come primarily from humans. While all animals are subject to natural threats such as disease and predation, raptors suffer far greater harm from human causes, including:
- Vehicles: Car accidents are one of the leading causes of injury and death to birds of prey. Raptors that feed on carrion, such as eagles and vultures, are frequently hit by cars when they feed on road kill and find themselves too gorged to fly quickly. Furthermore, many birds of prey hunt along roadways and can be struck by vehicles as they fly.
- Wind Farms: While wind farms are heralded as a clean source of renewable energy, they have a high environmental cost in terms of bird fatalities. Many wind farms are situated along migratory flyways and strong updraft areas, prime flight corridors for raptors. The birds are frequently struck by the spinning blades.
- All Terrain Vehicles: ATVs are not largely responsible for birds injured by vehicles, but they can destroy ground nests such as those from burrowing owls. Many all terrain vehicles are also used in open or abandoned fields and therefore destroy the habitat of the small birds and mammals that are the primary prey for different raptors. Without food, the raptors fail to reproduce successfully and populations dwindle.
- Poison: Different types of pesticides and herbicides used on crops or to control rodents can be lethal to raptors over time. The birds ingest small amounts of the poison from their prey, but the toxins accumulate until the birds are killed. Strong concentrations of pollution can have the same effect, and some birds of prey even die from ingesting trash and litter that accumulates in their digestive tract.
- Habitat Loss: All wild birds are subject to habitat loss, but birds of prey require very large territories for successful hunting and nesting. As more land is developed, less is available for raptors’ needs.
- Landfills: A landfill can be an attractive hunting ground for birds of prey, but it can also be a deadly one. Not only may the birds ingest poisons from rodent control tactics, but landfills with methane burn towers inadvertently provide highly suitable perches for hunting raptors. Unfortunately, when the methane ignites, birds can be scorched and killed.
- Poaching: In many parts of the world, birds of prey are desirable hunting trophies and may be illegally killed for taxidermy purposes or to collect decorative feathers. Some birds are also poached to become falconry hunting birds.
- Power Lines: Power lines can be deadly to raptors. A raptor perched on a power pole will spread its wings before flight and may inadvertently complete the electrical circuit between two wires, causing electrocution. This is especially a concern with larger birds of prey that have wider wingspans.
- Persecution: Irrational beliefs about birds of prey continue to create risks for raptors through misinformation or superstitions. Farmers may believe that a raptor will prey on livestock or harm crops and will then illegally kill or injure the bird, or certain cultures may believe raptors to be evil spirits or undesirable creatures. Even some backyard birders may seek to harm raptors in order to protect their backyard birds from falling as prey.
- Imprinting: Despite the best intentions, it is harmful to raptors if they are removed from the nest to be raised with humans. A young bird must learn critical hunting and survival skills from its parents, and if the bird does not have the opportunity to mature in the wild it will imprint on humans instead. Not only will it not develop the requisite skills, but it may approach humans without caution and therefore risk persecution if it is released.
How You Can Help
Understanding the different risks to raptors is the first step in helping safeguard all birds of prey. To get truly active in raptor conservation…
- Donate to a wildlife rehabilitation facility that specializes in birds of prey. While financial donations are always welcome, many facilities also rely on volunteers and material donations such as supplies to care for the birds. Supportive birders can either donate time, money and materials themselves or arrange for donation drives for the facility’s benefit.
- Share educational programs with the public in order to spread correct information about birds of prey and how to help them. Many nature centers, aviaries and rehabilitation facilities have “ambassador” birds that cannot be released but can visit schools, companies, birding festivals and other groups and events for teaching programs. Interested birders can help arrange those programs.
- Report any threats to raptors in your area to the proper wildlife management officials. If you see anyone injure or kill a bird of prey, do what you can to report that individual and see that the bird receives proper attention and care if necessary. Attend council meetings and be involved with wildlife officials to minimize risks to raptors in your area.
- Be a responsible birder when protecting your backyard birds. Never harm a bird of prey, either in your backyard or in the field, and avoid disturbing nesting raptors.
By understanding the risks to raptors and knowing how to minimize those risks, all birders can help protect these graceful and beautiful birds.