Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Risks to Raptors in Migration

My name is Gil Randell. I’m active as official counter and coordinator at the Ripley Hawk Watch, a spring watch on the south shore of Lake Erie. I’m also a member of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, serve on its board, and have chaired its Conservation and Education Committee for the last few years. I’m joining the HMANA team posting to “Hawk Migration Notes,” where, among other things, I’ll be commenting on the activities of the Conservation and Education Committee.

Carolyn and Julie in their posts in the last two weeks have touched on the pleasure experienced by those of us lucky enough to spend time at fall raptor migration sites. That pleasure, however, can be tinged with uneasiness and worry.

Raptors are never far removed from mortality. For raptors, death can come from starvation and from injuries sustained while hunting. Death also can be caused by man’s activities: from pesticides, lead poisoning, illegal trapping and hunting, and collisions with windows and other man-made structures.

The migration that we enjoy so much at our hawk watches renders raptors especially vulnerable to many of these risks. Migration is an arduous activity that requires birds to travel thousands of miles, often over territories that, for one reason or another, are hostile to them. First-year birds are especially in harm’s way. High mortality rates among first-year birds are one of the reasons spring hawk watches on average encounter many fewer raptors than fall hawk watches.

One of man’s activities that poses threats to raptors and has especially concerned the Conservation and Education Committee is the rapidly growing wind power industry. Conservationists and representatives of the wind power industry all agree that proper siting of projects is essential to limiting the risk from wind power development to birds and bats and especially to raptors. Proper siting, however, appears often to be overlooked or ignored in the wind industry’s rapid expansion.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in its current interim guidelines on wind power development, specifically states that wind power projects should avoid officially designated Important Bird Areas, areas where endangered species are known to nest or concentrate, and areas of known migration concentrations. Yet many of us, as we enjoy the migration, can see turbine projects encroaching on our favorite hawk watches. They seem to get closer every year.

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