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.
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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.
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.