We interact with birds in many ways. Millions of Americans put birdfeeders in our backyards so that we can watch them, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Interaction between humans and birds goes back many thousands of years. Sometimes both parties treat each other humanely, sometimes humans end up in control, but in some cases humans and their houses end up on the birds’ menu.
People will go to great lengths to see and photograph birds. That’s especially true if a bird is rare or hard to locate. Owls, for instance, are notoriously hard to find because they tend to hide in the daylight hours and generally only come out to hunt under the cover of darkness. In Ottawa, Canada, several owls took up residence in a local park this past winter. The birds were quickly discovered by area birders and bird photographers. Of course, in the daytime, owls tend toward lethargy and typically sit quietly in a tree. That’s great, but doesn’t lend itself to action photos. Not wanting to miss the shot, some photographers would make a quick stop at a local pet store to buy a box of mice on their way to the park. Once there, they would choose the best angle for background and lighting, set up their cameras and then toss a mouse out on the snow in just the right spot to catch an owl’s attention.
The great grey owl, sleepy or not, would spy the hapless rodent and drop from its perch to glide in and snatch the mouse with its sharp talons. Suddenly, a great many action photos of hunting owls were coming out of Ottawa. The regular feedings also encouraged the owls to stay in the park through the winter instead of moving on.
A Fight Between Equals
Birds can be very territorial, especially during the mating season when the male with the best territory has a big advantage in attracting a mate. Some species will openly challenge and even fight off other males that encroach upon their territory. Usually one bird sees that it is losing the encounter and it will fly off largely unharmed. Sometimes, the presence of humans can interfere with these natural instincts.
Having just purchased a new car, one New Hampshire resident was dismayed to find bird poop in unnaturally large concentrations covering just the driver’s door each afternoon when she got out of work. She first thought that she must have parked under a bird nest, but there were no tree limbs or any possible nesting site above her car. This strange occurrence kept up for more than a week, until she finally discovered the cause. Leaving work early one day, she found a male northern cardinal hopping excitedly on the door of her car in front of the side view mirror. It seemed that his own reflection had been catching his eye and looked like another male cardinal trying to set up its own territory too close to his. So, every day, the cardinal would fly to that spot and spend hours scolding its own mirror image. Mystery solved.
Vultures Ate my House
In 2009, a flock of about 200 vultures decided to take up residence in Ridgeway, Virginia. The Martinsville Bulletin reported that one local resident received a great deal of the birds’ attention. Every day, dozens of vultures would land on the roof of her house to pick and tear at the shingles. It seems that her shingles were made of rubber. No one is sure why, but for some reason vultures are attracted to rubber and enjoy picking at it and even eating it. Rubber shingles, windshield wiper blades, automotive window seals, and many other rubber items have all been reported as being damaged by vultures. Many similar cases involving public libraries, commercial buildings and private homes with rubber roofing materials have been reported. Vultures will tear at the rubber shingles until the roof is completely destroyed. Despite the damage, most state agencies won’t allow the birds to be killed leaving distressed homeowners searching for some more humane bird deterrents that are affective.
Sonic repellents and bird spikes may be good ways to keep birds away today, but back in the 1400’s in New Zealand, the Maori people didn’t have such effective methods to ward off Haast’s Eagle, the largest eagle ever known. Although eventually driven to extinction by loss of habitat, Maori legend tells of the big bird swooping out of the sky to kill and eat people. While that may sound far-fetched, scientists say the main prey of the Haasts’ Eagle was the giant moa bird. For those unfamiliar with the giant moa, it’s shaped something like an ostrich and weighs in at three hundred pounds. Haast’s Eagle, say researchers, would kill the moa in a single strike by swooping down from above and striking with its huge and powerful talons. That’s more than enough power to take down an unsuspecting human.
Smile, Your Nest is on Candid Camera
Many modern raptors have adapted to survive the loss of their natural habitats as human activity replaces trees and wild mountain ledges with glass and steel skyscrapers. Some find the exterior ledges of the upper stories just as good for nest-building and rearing their young as more natural settings. With a large population of pigeons upon which to feed, hawks and peregrine falcons have not only survived the inexorable advance of suburbia, but have learned to thrive in the heart of the big city.
Rather than considering the birds as pest, many building owners welcome them as deterrents to pigeons. Some even set up remote web cameras that let the public watch the birds as they hatch, feed and fledge a new generation of city-dwelling birds of prey each spring.