Blog entries / Law enforcement / Migratory birds

Service special agent reduces injuries to hawks at Mass. landfills

Marla Isaac examines red-tailed hawk. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Rehabilitator Marla Isaac examines a red-tailed hawk injured at Taunton Sanitary Landfill. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

These methane-burning stacks at landfills are dangerous. They expel flames that burn hawks. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

These methane-burning stacks at landfills are dangerous. They expel flames that burn hawks. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., these tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching on the smokestack. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., these tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching on the smokestack. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

When hawks fly across landfills, they find smokestacks perfect for perching and eyeing prey scavenging waste.

But those smokestacks aren’t so perfect. They ignite, rushing flames upward in speeds the hawks can’t beat, scorching or even killing the birds. Injured birds become prime targets for coyotes and other predators.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent James Dowd has taken a creative route to handle these injuries to hawks at Massachusetts landfills.

In 2011, he got a call from a raptor rehabilitator – an injured female juvenile red-tailed hawk had been found around Taunton Sanitary Landfill.

“The rehabilitator, Marla Isaac, described the hawk’s injuries as burns to the wing and tail feathers,” Dowd says. “She explained that this injury is consistent with having been burned by a methane gas flare stack.”

These stacks burn methane gas, which is produced by landfills for energy and burned to destroy dangerous pollutants in excess gas.

“A single perch discourager would prevent hawks from perching on these flare systems,” he says.

DID YOU KNOW?
Hawks are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Service’s law enforcement enforce this and conserve migratory birds, in addition to helping manage ecosystems, save endangered species, preserve wildlife habitat, restore fisheries, combat invasive species and promote international wildlife conservation. Learn more.

Dowd worked with company operating the smokestack, Fortistar, to get an aluminum top placed on the smokestack flare system. Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., the tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching there.

To this date, no other bird injuries have been reported, and Fortistar committed to using these tops on all their new smokestack flare systems.

In 2012, another incident demonstrated that other conditions can circumvent the success of these perch-deterring tops. At the Halifax Landfill, the smokestack was positioned between two other perch spots, with the flight path directly over the flame of the smokestack.

This injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the Halifax Landfill for rehabilitation. Credit: USFWS

This injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the Halifax Landfill for rehabilitation. Credit: USFWS

An injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the landfill for rehabilitation. While Isaac expects it will fly again this summer, she won’t release the kestrel because burns to its left eye caused blindness. This kestrel will need to live the remainder of its life in an educational facility.

Dowd worked with the smokestack operator, Republic Services, to remove one of the perch spots, an old utility pole.

“This change in configuration should lessen the chances of a bird flying from perch to perch directly over the flare system,” Dowd says.

In late 2012, Dowd watched as the fully recovered hawk from Taunton Landfill was released at the Lyman Reserve conservation area in Wareham, Mass.

Photo of Marla Isaac from The Clueless Gardeners blog.

Photo of Marla Isaac from The Clueless Gardeners blog.

4 thoughts on “Service special agent reduces injuries to hawks at Mass. landfills

  1. I say let the methane do its job. We have far too many of these pests in our skies already. It’s time for an open season on all hawks.

  2. Your points in the previous comment are well-taken. However, there are just too many hawks. I used to see and enjoy the company of squirrels and rabbits etc in the neighborhoods and parks near where I live in Pittsburgh, PA. These areas are nearly devoid of these critters due to overpredation by hawks. The hawks are simply everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see two or more of them fighting over a catch. I still say the only to do is to put a serious dent in their numbers. Shoot them, poisen them, but get rid of them by any means necessary! Thanks again for your comments.

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