Western raptors on the rise

  • Peregrine falcon

    Kent and Donna Dannen
  Some birds of prey in the West are fighting back. The Salt Lake City-based group, HawkWatch International, recently compiled up to 18 years' of data on the birds collected from sites in Nevada, Utah and New Mexico and found a fast rate of growth among merlins, ospreys and peregrine falcons.


The average annual population increase for the period from 1983 to 1996 was 12 percent for peregrines, 14 percent for merlins and 8 percent for ospreys. The 1972 banning of the toxic pesticide DDT is at least partially responsible for the increase, says HawkWatch founder Steve Hoffman.


Turkey vultures, which were included in the survey even though they are not birds of prey, also experienced a population rise of 11 percent for the period. New roads opened by logging appear to have helped the vultures, which feed on carrion left by road kills.


Increased logging may be hurting birds like the northern goshawk, however. Hoffman says a drop in the northern goshawk population in the Wellsville Mountain region west of Logan, Utah, is likely due to an overall decline in forest health during the past 15 to 20 years, particularly from the clearcutting of mature and old-growth forests.


The group also reports that golden eagle numbers have fallen significantly over the past 25 years, probably due to the deterioration of sage-bunchgrass habitats which support the eagles' number-one prey species, the jackrabbit. Declines of 10-to-30 percent in eagle populations were recorded at sites in Utah, Idaho, Oregon and California.


For more information, call 800/726-HAWK, write HawkWatch International, P.O. Box 660, Salt Lake City, UT 84110 or e-mail hawkwatch@charitiesusa.com. HawkWatch is on-line at http://www.vpp.com/HawkWatch.


* Sarah Dry