NATURAL SOUTH: Return of the raptors
This video provides information about different birds of prey. Discover how these birds serve as "environmental indicators," which is helpful to humans. (Courtesy: The Southern Company)
Joe: Well, all raptor are carnivorous. They eat meat. And they all have the strongly curved beaks for tearing food apart. And feet that are adapted to catching prey, very strong talons and feet.
Stacey: Now, those talons, along with that hooked or curved beak, are really the birds of prey knife and fork. That’s what they use to make a living.
Joe: Among most raptors, the beak isn't the killing tool. The feet are the killing tool. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure that one can exert in each foot and they’re tipped with almost stiletto talons. And the beak’s generally used to tear their prey apart into chunks that they can consume. Except for the falcons. The falcons capture with their feet, but they have a specially adapted beak and they use that to break the neck of their victim. They’re constantly predators. That’s what they do. It shouldn’t be viewed as bad, because that’s their lifestyle. They’re really helping, not only themselves out and their young by feeding them, but they’re helping the prey that they prey upon, because they help build a better mouse or build a better Columbian ground squirrel, because evolution is selecting through that predatory pressure ones that are able to survive better. The ones that survive are the smart ones. And so the ones that don't survive are the ones that get taken out of the gene pool. So, either the sick or injured or the ones that are not so smart get taken out and selects for better prey animals.
Stacey: Well, when you talk about birds of prey, they can really be broken down into seven different types of birds of prey. And those are the eagles, the falcons, vultures, kites, osprey and owls. And some of the most common birds of prey that we’ll see in this area, of course, the hawks, obviously the red-tailed hawks, extremely well know. Bald eagles, golden eagles, the peregrine falcon that we hear so much about, the great horned owls, also bard owls which are known as the common hoot owl in other parts of the country, and of course the black vultures and turkey vultures that we see along our roadsides. A lot of folks call them buzzards, but really they’re properly known as vultures. Generally, as a rule, the larger the bird, the longer it lives and the smaller the bird, the shorter its lifespan. Birds that are very small, like an American Kestrel, are living at a pretty high rate of speed. They work a lot for their small lives. They also have many more young every year and so as a result, they tend to only live maybe five to six years in the wild.
Joe: Eagles live a long time, longer than most people think. There’s been some documented living into their 60’s. That’s an exception, of course. By the time eagles reach their early to mid-20’s, they’re starting to lose their ability to hold onto prime habitat, prime mates, and they’re starting to get pushed out.
Stacey: Birds of prey were really facing extinction, especially in the 60’s and 70’s. During World War II a pesticide called DDT, which a lot of people have heard about, was developed. And DDT was really supposed to be our miracle cure for mosquitoes. Nobody likes mosquitoes, they bite us in the summertime. They also carry a lot of diseases like malaria. And basically we just didn’t know how harmful it was. And that’s one of the great uses that birds of prey are, is they’re what’s called “environmental indicators” and basically what that means is harmful pesticides such as DDT show up in these birds before they start showing up in people. And what happened with a lot of these birds of prey, the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon most notably, but also ospreys, even brown pelicans, these birds’ eggshells were so thin and brittle that when the mother falcon or eagle would try to incubate her young, the eggs actually break under her own weight. Sometimes the eggs would even break inside the mothers, killing them as well. And it turns out that at one point there was even more DDT in our own bodies than what the USDA recommended was safe for dairy cattle. In 1972, DDT was banned for use in the United States. In the 60's and early 70's, there were only about 800 bald eagles in the world. That was all there were. Now there’s over 70,000 of them. They’re doing so well they’ve been taken off of the endangered species list, as has the peregrine falcon. So, it really is a major comeback and it really is sort of proof that we can right our wrongs.
Joe: So, even today, man’s relationship with raptors is still indirectly negative. The history of birds of prey and what the future holds, it holds great promise, but that’s largely up to us, how good a job that we as biologists and environmentalists and conservationists do. She was actually part of an illegal breeding operation that was going on back in the early 80's. And she was confiscated by the fish and wildlife services and eventually found her way here to Auburn. Talking like this is common, [indistinct]. And in some it’s even called screaming. Fortunately, we don't have that with her. Even though I do have a hearing deficit in this ear. Well, we’re gonna be putting on a tail piece, mounting a tail piece permanently to one of her center tail feathers. And that’s so we can put a radio transmitter on there when we choose to. And of course the radio transmitter is so that we can track her if we need to. Of course, we don't lose birds, but we misplace them sometimes. All right, Tiger. Well, this is called a lure. And the lure just represents something that a raptor might wanna kill. This is an old tool. It’s been used for thousands of years in falconry. But, you normally see it associated with falcons not eagles. The lure is always garnished with a food reward, always. And today, the food reward is a bit of quail. You never present the lure unless you want them to come to the lure because they’re looking to kill this. They know it’s like the jackpot for them. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! She’s gonna fly into the wind, gain some height and now she’s gonna circle for the lure. And of course this is hidden to her now. And she’s looking for it. Ho, ho, ho, ho! Now she’s down. And what you see her doing now is called mantling. And she’s hiding her food from other eagles or other predators that might want to take it away from her. And that’s just a common behavior. Good positive interaction and it’s best just to quit for the day and end on a positive note. We think it’s important to get people excited about wildlife and in some way connect that with conservation issues, ‘cause you know an educated public, an informed public is a public that can make changes.