A wildlife rehabilitator in Rock County here in Wisconsin recently made a discovery that should be of interest to fans of hawks and owls everywhere -- or anywhere there are municipal landfills that deal with methane gas by burning it off through tall pipes.
Just as you might expect, the landfills attract mice and rats, and the rodents attract Red-tailed Hawks and other hungry birds of prey. But since landfills generally lack trees, towers, and other elevated perches, the birds scan for their prey from a place you might not expect: atop the methane burners.
Unfortunately, the pipes ignite intermittently, and without warning, producing a sudden flare big enough and hot enough to scorch or kill anything perched on top or even flying overhead.
A wildlife specialist with Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources says the problem is probably more widespread than most landfill operators and birdwatchers realize. "At first I think the landfill thought this was like a one-time thing. But I think they realize now that this is occurring more often. The birds can't fly, and they hop off and are picked off by other predators. I wouldn't be surprised if it's more common than we know."
Not all landfills across the country have the methane burners, but reports of burned birds are prevalent enough that increased awareness of the burners and their threat to raptors is important.
One solution? Attaching stainless-steel spikes to the pipes. They prevent the birds from perching. -- C.H.