Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Deadly Posts

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Avid Wood County, WV, birders Dick and Jeanette Esker sent along these troubling photos with a warning that these hole-punched sign posts could be inadvertently deadly to perching raptors.

On December 30, 2006, while birding along a rural road in Wood County, the Eskers spotted a dead great horned owl hanging upside-down from a sign post. They were curious how this could have happened? Had the bird been shot and strung up by an irate farmer?

Upon closer inspection they noticed that the owl was suspended by a single talon that had apparently gotten caught in the top hole of the post. Clearly the bird flew in and perched on top of the post. Then, when it tried to leave, found itself caught by a talon through the hole. It had struggled to free itself, and likely starved to death. How awful!

Owl feet have a locking mechanism that keeps the toes locked around a perch or prey without the need for the muscles to remain contracted. Once locked on to prey/perch, the most natural position for the taloned toes is to remain clenched. Perhaps this natural adaptation made it impossible for the owl to unlock its grip on the pole. Once its weight inverted its body after take-off, the toe became tightly stuck inside the post hole.

After removing the owl, the Eskers took a few photos to document the event. And they asked us at BWD to help spread the word about the unintentional danger these sign posts may pose to any raptor with talons that perches on top. This style of sign post or fence post is commonly used, so how can the danger be reduced?

The Eskers recommend affixing the sign to the top-most hole on the post. Alternatively a simple bolt and nut can be inserted into the top hole or two to block talons from slipping into the hole. Duct tape wrapping might also proof useful, though talons could punch through tape that is weakened by weather.

We're going to publish this in BWD in the near future. But I wanted to get the word out now. Has anyone out there in blogspace ever seen anything like this? If so, please send it along or post a comment.

Photos by Richard and Jeanette Esker


On March 21, 2007 at 8:34 PM Rondeau Ric said...

I haven't heard of anything like this before Bill. I'll check with my birders in the area and a couple of the naturalist clubs.


On March 21, 2007 at 11:25 PM Anonymous said...

How incredibly sad. What a beautiful bird.

On March 21, 2007 at 11:30 PM Susan Gets Native said...

That is so awful I can't think of anything to say.

***Brainstorming for ideas to keep this from happening again***

On March 22, 2007 at 3:04 AM Wanderin' Weeta said...

It just occurred to me; it would be a good idea to submit this post to the I and the Bird carnival in order to get the word out.

Next posting:

"Send your entries to Corey of lovely dark and deep (here471 AT yahoo DOT com) by April 3rd."

On March 22, 2007 at 7:15 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

This reminds me of the hazard presented by the 2" round vent holes on oil storage tanks in areas like ours (So. OH, w. PA) that have natural oil and gas and lots of wells. Bluebirds check in but they can't check out. I saw a photograph of hundreds of oil-sodden mountain bluebirds taken from the bottom of a tank in Texas--awful. We put hardware cloth over ours, but how many are out there unprotected, quietly catching bluebirds? Good post, BOTB. What a waste of a good owl, and in breeding season too.

On March 22, 2007 at 7:20 AM RuthieJ said...

Thanks for sharing this information, Bill. Could the same thing happen to a red-tailed hawk? I will be more aware of this on my birding 'drive-arounds' and try the duct tape fix whenever I find this problem.

On March 22, 2007 at 8:09 AM Mary said...

This made me shiver. So sad. After reading this, I made a mental note to carry some HD electrical tape in my car when I see signs like this.

On March 22, 2007 at 10:14 AM Bill of the Birds said...

This note came in from Dick Esker:

We found the dead owl dangling from the post as shown in the picture during our Christmas Bird Count on December 30, 2006. The post was at Washington, WV in Wood County. It was at the edge of the Tri-C ballfields, marking the property between the ballfields and the adjacent industrial complex property. There were about 30 other sign posts at that general location with the same problem. I got permission from the property owner to close the holes in the posts. I used pop-rivets. Since then we have shared the info with WV DNR, the WV list server. The US Fish and Wildlife Service picked it up from the list server and shared it with their refuge personnel. As we visit other places during our routine birding expeditions we look for problem posts and let the appropriate personnel know if we find any problems.--Dick Esker, Wood County, WV

On March 22, 2007 at 11:45 AM Andy said...

Something very odd is going on here. The exact same owl/post issue is shown on another blog:

The really weird thing is that the owl and the post have been photoshopped onto a different background - note the changing buildings in the background, but it is exactly the same owl. Who would do this, and why?

On March 22, 2007 at 12:12 PM Bill of the Birds said...

It's no trick. The folks who made this discovery and took the images are personal friends of mine, and they live and bird watch here in my local area.

Their pix have been previously distributed elsewhere online, including through some folks in the NWR system.

I post lower-res files than most people, so my versions of them might look a bit washed out.

On March 22, 2007 at 12:18 PM Nuthatch said...

The photo I posted on my blog, mentioned above, was forwarded to me by the USFWS, asking people to spread the word. The photos (there were more than one of the same sign, I provided a second in an inset) do show the same buildings in the background.

On March 22, 2007 at 1:10 PM dguzman said...

Thanks for the info, and I'll share it with every birder I know. I live in rural PA, so there are a lot of these posts; however, many of the DOT's signs in central PA are mounted on wooden poles, which I've always really liked. Smart move, PennDOT!

On March 22, 2007 at 1:31 PM Andy said...

Hi Bill and Nuthatch -

The more I look at these images I agree that they are the same shot but the background has been blurred out in Bill's version. I didn't mean to take an accusitory tone, I just was confused about the images' similarities.

And thanks to both of you for posting these images - these signpost holes seems so easy to fix, and just a little education will get people aware of the need to buy just a few more bolts for their signs, or just the electrical tape solution mentioned by wanderin weeta above.

If only the barbed wire fence problem was so straightforward to resolve.

On March 22, 2007 at 3:57 PM momadness said...

We should let our state conservation departments know, too. Maybe they can help. This is just uncalled for.

On March 22, 2007 at 5:14 PM katdoc said...

Oh this is terrible. The photo is sad, but very dramatic - thanks to all invovlved with taking and posting it.

I'm glad to see this issue getting out among the birding world, but the ones who really needs educating is the landowner/manager population. They may not be aware of the problem or don't read birding sites and magazines to learn about it.

I applaud those of you who plan to take steps to help prevent future tragedies, but I don't think duct tape is the answer. It dries and cracks in the heat and sun, so it would only be a temporary fix. Worse, it has really potent adhesive and if even a little bit of the tape wasn't stuck down, it could act as "fly paper" trapping smaller birds (bluebirds, phoebes, sparrows and so on.) They might lose some feathers or be left with the adhesive stuck on them, but the worst case scenario would be death of a small bird in the same manner os the owl died.