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All hawks and owls are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC, 703-711).  These laws strictly prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks or owls without special permits.  State and federal permits are required to trap and relocate hawks and owls.  If possible, experienced bird banders or trappers should do the trapping.  Landowners, however, can safely trap hawks and owls if they follow instructions and are careful when handling the birds of prey.  It is against the law to shoot hawks and owls.  State and federal permits are required to shoot them.  They may be issued only where there is a serious public health or depredation problem and when non-lethal control methods fail or are impractical. 

Hawks and owls are birds of prey and frequently referred to as raptors.  A term that includes the eagles, vultures, falcons, kites, ospreys, northern harriers and crested caracaras.  Food habits vary greatly among the raptors.  Hawks and owls are highly specialized predators that take their place at the top of the food chain.  Some are responsible for the loss of poultry, small game or pigeons.  The derogatory term ‘chicken hawk’ was used to identify raptors, especially hawks, but has fallen out of usage during the last couple decades.  The ‘sky sharks’ is the new derogatory term that is used by pigeon fanciers to identify hawks in the millennium.  In the past, raptors were persecuted through indiscriminate shooting, poisoning, and pole trapping.  Recently, many people have developed a more enlightened attitude toward raptors and their place in the environment. 

People who experience raptor damage problems should seek information or assistance immediately.  Frustration occurs far too often because landowners and in particular pigeon fanciers are unfamiliar with or unable to control damage with non-lethal control techniques.  Killings of raptors result in the needless loss of raptors, and that might lead to undesirable legal actions.  Always consider the benefits that raptors provide before removing them from an area.  Their ecological importance is an indicator of environmental health that outweighs the economic damage they cause.  If trapping or shooting is necessary, permits should be requested and processed as quickly as possible. 

The most troublesome raptors are the large, more aggressive species, such as the cooper hawk, goshawk, red-tail hawk, and great horned owl.  The majority of depredation problems occur with free-ranging farmyard poultry and game farm fowl.  Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and pigeons are vulnerable because they are very conspicuous, unwary, and usually concentrated in areas that lack escape cover. 

Falcons are perhaps the most mysterious birds in the hawk family.  They were rarely seen near human settlement in the past, but their range has changed in the last few years.  In recent years, they were near extinction as a result of eggshell thinning caused by DDT.  The peregrine and prairie falcons are the most common in North America.  Their diet is made up of a large portion of birds and they are capable of taking birds the size of mallard duck and pigeon on the wing.  Within the past decade, the peregrine falcon has increased in numbers with reintroduction of the species to its former range and the decrease in the use of DDT.  A few kinds have even been introduced in metropolitan areas to control the exponential growth of the free-ranging common pigeons. 

For years, game farms and pigeon fanciers have dealt with raptors depredation problems.  Large concentrations of game farm animals and pigeons are strong attractions to predators.  Pigeon fanciers and operators of game farms should consider the prevention of predation as part of their cost of operation.  Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks occasionally prey on songbirds that are attracted to feeding stations, which should be viewed as a natural event; however, control of the raptors is not advisable. 

Poultry, pigeons and other livestock are vulnerable to a wide range of predators.  Frequent sightings of hawks and owls near the depredation site maybe a clue to the predator involved in the kill, but these sightings could be misleading.  Raptors usually kill only one bird or two per day.  Raptor kills usually have bloody puncture wounds in the back and breast from the raptor’s talons.  Owls often remove and eat the head and sometimes the neck of their prey.  In contrast, mammalian predators such as skunks or raccoons often kill several animals or birds during a night.  They usually tear skin and muscle tissue from the carcass and cut through the feathers of birds with their sharp teeth.  Hawks pluck birds, leaving piles of feathers on the ground.  Beak marks can sometimes be seen on the shafts of these plucked feathers.  Owls at times will swallow small animals’ whole but also pluck their prey. 

No permits are required to scare depredating migratory birds except for endangered or threatened species, including bald and golden eagles.  In addition, most states have regulations regarding hawks and owls.  Some species maybe common in one state but maybe on a state endangered species list in another.  Consult your local USDA-APHIS-Animal Damage Control, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or state wildlife department representatives for permit requirements and information. 

The ultimate solution to raptor depredation is prevention.  Free-roaming farmyard chickens, ducks, and pigeons attract hawks and owls and are highly susceptible to predation.  Many problems can be eliminated by simply housing poultry at night.  They can be conditioned to move into coops by feeding and watering them indoors at dusk.  Habitat modification can make an area less attractive to raptors.  Hawks and owls often survey an area from a perch prior to making an attack.  If possible, eliminate perch sites within 100 yards of the threatened area.  Cap poles with sheet-metal cones, Cat Claws, or inverted spikes.  Hawks and owls that roost in buildings can be frightened away or live trapped and removed. 

There are many techniques that can be used to scare hawks and owls from an area where they are causing havoc.  Some are inexpensive while others are not.  The effectiveness of frightening devices depends greatly on the predator, area, season and the method and application used.  Generally, if the predators are hungry, they quickly get used to and ignore frightening devices.  Remember that frightening devices are usually a means of reducing losses rather than totally eliminating them and you must be willing to tolerate occasional losses. 

The most common and easily implemented frightening device is a shotgun fired into the air in the direction of but not at the raptor.  Scarecrows or CD disks are effective at repelling raptors when they are moved regularly and used in conjunction with shotgun fire.  The most commonly used noise-making devices are shell crackers, which are 12-gauge shotgun shells containing a firecracker that is projected 50 to 100 yards before it explodes.  Noise, whistle and bird bombs are also commercially available.  They are fired from pistols and are less expensive to use than shell crackers, but their range is limited to 25 to 75 yards. 

No repellents or toxicants are registered or recommended for controlling hawks or owl damage.  In years past, raptors were killed by putting out carcasses laced with poison.  This practice led to the indiscriminate killings of many non-target animals.  Concerns for human safety also prompted the banning of toxicants for raptor control. 

In conclusion, many of the small mammals that hawks take from woodlots are the same species that cause damage to your conifers such as rabbits, squirrels and game birds.  Although some are responsible for loss of poultry, pigeons or small game which causes frustrations because of the pigeon fanciers or the landowners are unable to control damage with non-lethal control techniques due to their unfamiliarity with such methods.  Always remember and consider the benefits that raptors provide before removing them from an area; their ecological importance, aesthetic value, and contributions as indicators of environmental health may outweigh the economical damage they cause.

Jay Alnimer

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