Thursday, April 01, 2010

Save a raptor, hold on to your wrapper.

My wonderful wife Kim, who works as a veterinary technician in Easton came home from work with a disheartening story for anyone who enjoys wildlife.

Someone came rushing through the doors of the animal hospital in quite a state of panic, holding a Great Horned Owl, wrapped in a blanket. Now this is not a bird that one is likely to encounter on the average daily commute. Yet here is one, barely alive, in the patient waiting area of an animal hospital that gets most of its business from Labrador Retrievers and horses. Turns out this particular owl had been hit by a car.

Now you might be thinking, an owl? Getting hit by a car? I've never even seen an owl in the wild, how could I hit one with my car?

Well, owls aren't particularly rare; it is just rare to actually see them, which is sort of the whole M.O. with owls in the first place, I suppose.

The kind folks at the hospital told this good Samaritan that she should take the Great Horned Owl to a nearby wildlife recovery and rehabilitation facility, although there has been no word on whether the owl survived it's incredibly unfortunate collision.

But the larger story here is one that goes far beyond a single beautiful owl and an automobile. That is but one embodiment of the often destructive crossroads of human activity and the natural world. We humans like to think that our everyday actions do not have a direct impact on other species that are forced to try and exist in the sometimes minimal spaces we leave for them. This is unfortunately rarely the case.

Owls and other raptors are attracted to roads. More specifically, they are attracted to median strips and the grassy areas just beyond the shoulder that are often littered with trash. It is on the side of the road that so many burger wrappers and cups sticky with soda find themselves at the end of the line. The roadside seems like a convenient place to toss apple cores, banana peels, and even chewing gum remains; things that appear harmless and hardly qualify as litter.

But not so fast.

It is this very road trip refuse that leads to dead falcons, hawks, eagles, owls and ospreys. You toss the crust from your tuna sandwich out the window, and it lands just the other side of the rumble strip. It quickly becomes the next item on a veritable buffet for small rodents like mice and rats that get all they need in the way of food from side of the road trash that originates in the driver's seat. It is the feasting rodents that attract the birds. These epic raptors swoop in from telephone pole perches for their own idea of lunch amidst the wastebasket that is the roadside and they instead wind up in the grill of a semi truck, or on the windshield of a minivan. In a fight between a ten pound bird and a two thousand pound car, the owl rarely wins.

So next time you roll the window down to toss something out, remember the chain of events you are initiating, and take your wrapper home to the trashcan in your kitchen.

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