Birds of Prey
A Pond Owner’s Defense Against a Protected Hunter
Birds of prey, aka “Raptors”, are majestic, powerful, amazing and protected by both Federal and State laws. It is illegal to shoot or cause injury to a bird of prey and illegal to possess one without the proper permits.
Then how is a pond owner supposed to defend his fish from a natural predator that he can’t (and hopefully doesn’t want to) destroy?
The eating and nesting habits of raptors are important to know when trying to defend the backyard pond from such predators as blue herons, owls, and hawks.
Fish make up a large part of the heron’s diet. This makes him one of the most common and dreaded predators to ponds. Blue herons and cranes wade around in shallow water. The pond should be at least 3 feet deep to discourage this type of water fowl. Normally a heron is territorial and a decoy is a practical tool to help keep him away. May and June is a bad time to place a decoy, however, because that’s when the heron mates and a decoy can actually attract him to the pond.
The Red-Tail Hawk is common and abundant in North America. His diet consists of small mammals such as mice, other birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects. It’s a relief to know that 85 to 90% of the red-tailed hawk’s diet is composed of rodents.
This knowledge, however, does nothing to relieve the steep increase in hawk attacks on ponds this year. Less than 1% of our customers’ predator problems during the last three years concerned hawks. This year already that percentage has risen to over 40%! Could it be that the increase in home construction and wildlife habitat destruction in our area is causing the hawk to search for food in our own backyards?
A hawk’s eyesight is 8 times that of a human’s. This means that he can sit high up in a tree and see the slightest movement on the surface of the pond. He swoops down to seize his prey, picking it out of the water with his sharp talons and carrying it off. This makes it tough to defend the pond.
The best defense against a hawk is netting. Unfortunately the hawk (or owl - a raptor with similar fishing habits) can get tangled up in the net and an injury can occur. If this happens contact the Chattahoochee Nature Center or other State wildlife agency. Do not handle the bird. Do not force it to drink (that can injure the bird more). Do not try to treat it.
Only a person fully licensed by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and any applicable state wildlife commission is legally permitted to rehabilitate an injured raptor. Most veterinarians do not have the facilities or experience to handle an injured bird.
For more information about the red-tail hawk or other raptors contact The Birds of Prey Foundation at (303) 460-0674.
From Volume 13 of What's
Up, Doc?, March / April / May / June, 2001
© Copyright 2001, The Pond Doc's Water Garden Center. All rights Reserved. Reproduction of this article prohibited without prior consent of The Pond Doc.
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