“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” –D.H. Lawrence
Though the birds do not feel sorry for themselves, I’ve seen enough birds hurting to pity them plenty. When I think about the horrors of what is happening to raptors, one scene still plays in my head. I am standing in the operating room on my first day at Carolina Raptor Center as I watched a hawk’s heart slowly stop beating. She heaves her last breath as maggots continue to devour the flesh on her wing. I had worked with raptors for many years before that moment, but that was when the reality hit me that these birds need our help, now more than ever.
Raptors are birds of prey, such as hawks, owls, and eagles. They hunt and eat other smaller animals, such as insects, rodents, and snakes. At the top of the food chain, they are what’s known as an “indicator species.” That means they’re used to tell if an area of the environment is healthy and balanced. A large, healthy raptor population indicates a healthy environment.
Without these birds, entire ecosystems would collapse. Populations of mice, insects, lizards, snakes, and even smaller birds would become too large to be sustainable. Owls eat roughly one-third of their body weight per night. With enough owls out hunting, their impact on populations is significant.
One of the largest threats to raptors is getting hit by cars. Even though they are smart, fast creatures, the majority of injured birds that I have worked with have suffered injuries sustained by a car. This what the scenario looks like:
The bird swoops down to catch a mouse. The mouse came to check out that apple core the guy in the car ahead of you threw out the window. Like the majority of reasonable people, he probably thought, “It’s biodegradable and natural, so it’s fine.” I used to think the same thing until I heard the stories of so many of these injured birds.
Raptors are, of course, threatened by many other things, most of which are man-made. Among the culprits are overuse of pesticides, habitat loss, and hunting.
You may be wondering, “what can I do?” Maybe you don’t have time to volunteer at the raptor center or you don’t think that working with birds is for you, but there are everyday things that each person can do to be mindful of raptors and help them in small ways.
- Don’t throw ANYTHING out car windows, or better yet–pick up litter you see along roadways.
- Use pesticides only when absolutely necessary and in the smallest amounts you can to control the problem.
- Remember raptors are protected by law and should never be hunted.
- Report anyone who illegally poaches these birds.
- Most importantly, spread awareness. Tell your friends how they can help raptors.
Visit Carolina Raptor Center and educate yourselves on the birds and their threats. Awareness is the key to creating change and keeping these creatures alive.