My Latest Column: Tough Times for Raptors
March 16, 2023
Special to The Record
Local raptors have had tough times recently. I learned of a dead great horned owl in Glen Rock, and I removed a dead black vulture and dead red-tailed hawk in my hometown of Allendale. For wildlife, it’s a suburban jungle out there.
The cause of death differed in each instance. I mention them here in case you come upon a dead raptor. The great horned owl, which showed no signs of injuries, likely died from eating a rat that had eaten the nastiest (and most widely used) kind of rat poison.
I read about the dead vulture on Facebook after a dog walker found it next to the railroad tracks. I contacted The Raptor Trust, the region’s wild-bird hospital. They said the vulture had likely died from the avian flu, which has killed millions of chickens nationwide, In the wild, the virus can be transmitted by waterfowl and birds that come into contact with a diseased bird.
The advice from The Raptor Trust: The remains should be placed in a black-plastic contractor’s bag, which should be placed inside another contractor’s bag and discarded before any animals ate the carcass and also could have been exposed to the disease.
And although the chances of a human contracting the avian flu were slim to none, “be sure to wear gloves and a mask, put it in a double-strength contractor bag just to be safe,” the staffer advised.
Aaron Guikema, a wildlife biologist with the USDA in N.J., concurred with the disposal advice, adding: “Usually we tell people to let the vultures take care of a dead animal. But not when the dead animal is a vulture.”
A few days later, as I walked along one of my town’s major arteries, I came across the remains of a red-tailed hawk with a scorched tail. What happened?
Again, The Raptor Trust had the answer. If I had found the dead hawk near power lines (yes), it had probably been electrocuted by a live wire. Their advice: Contact the police. An officer responded immediately and notified the power company. I took the red-tail home and buried it. (I still felt bad about throwing the vulture in a Dumpster like garbage.)
A check with the state Department of Environmental Protection turned up the fact that electrocution was the leading cause of death for the state’s bald eagles last year – eight of the 41 deaths. According to the DEP, “Electrocution is a significant risk for bald eagles everywhere because power distribution relies on smaller poles where “hot” wires are often positioned less than six feet distant where an eagle’s wingspan can result in wire connections.”
Add red-tailed hawks to that list.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim’s next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].