Saturday, January 24, 2015

Raptors in the Wetlands

In the “World of Warcraft” gaming crowd, you will find maps on the Internet of Raptor Ridge Wetlands in the Eastern Kingdom. 

It is the place in that virtual world that is considered a ‘contested territory,’ full of various marshes full of different types of fauna and wildlife.  The rocky ridge overlooks the watery flats below.  The raptors are attracted to the cliffs, where they can take off and soar over the marshes, looking down for easy prey.  The marshes (wetlands) below make for a whole world full of watery surprises of life, diverse and thriving, including the humans who wander into it and carry on their activities for living there.
A Peregrine Falcon feeding on a kill (photo: the wikipedia files)
It often works that way in the real life worlds of wetlands, waterfowl, and raptors -- especially the Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Great Horned Owls.  In doing limited research for this blog, I found a great source of information from the “Ducks Unlimited” website, written by Scott Yaich, PhD:  “While it would be easy to assume that fewer raptors would mean more ducks, no studies have indicated that these birds take enough waterfowl to significantly depress their populations. Waterfowl and raptors have shared the same habitats for hundreds of thousands of years, and in healthy ecosystems both groups of birds thrive in "the balance of nature." Like most predators, raptors tend to take the small, the sick and the weak. For example, a study of crippled mallards in Wisconsin found that most of the birds were killed by predators.  Raptors, including Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Great Horned Owls accounted for about half of the predation.”

Now, let’s add human activity to this biological diversity.  Wetlands have long been identified by the Army Corp of Engineers and other wildlife managers as very necessary corridors for migrating waterfowl.  Also, various hunting organizations who lobby Washington have fed plenty of research dollars into restoring, maintaining, and even adding habitats for the waterfowl.  An added benefit is that most wetlands, by the physics of water running through roots, dirt, and rocks, are considered ‘nature’s filtration system’ and are often constructed to help clean up sources of pollution while also supporting a resurgence of wildlife in the neighborhoods where they are placed, even around subdivisions. 

All of these protected areas, even the seasonal marshes that may dry up during the hot summers, add to the rich diversity of life’s food chain from the ‘bottom feeders’ of mice and insects, on up to the ducks and waterfowl of open water marshes, and to the ‘top feeders’ of raptors.  It stands to reason that a well-designed, well-managed wetlands project can add great biodiversity to any construction project.  The best part is more release sites for rehabilitated raptors  into areas where we civilized humans may not be so accustomed to seeing soaring raptors anymore.

In upcoming blogs, the multi-tiered diversity of wetlands and raptors will be explored more.  It offers another great insight into how human activity and development projects can still be ‘inter-connected’ to our conservation practices, especially for the benefit of raptors.  Our human activities – our daily lives – can add to the diversity of the ecosystem in a healthy way.

Submitted by Paula Arbuthnot, World Bird Sanctuary Part-time Employee

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