Stephen W. Hoffman, a biologist who heads a non-profit group dedicated to saving hawks, says there is good news and bad news about raptors in the West: three species seem to be declining, while six are on their way back.
Hoffman, president of the Albuquerque-based HawkWatch International Inc., told a press conference Wednesday that the species in trouble are the northern goshawk, prairie falcon and golden eagle.However, the picture is improving for the osprey, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, merlin, turkey vulture and red-tailed hawk. The first four of these were decimated by DDT and other pesticides but are making a comeback because of improved control of those poisons in this country; the turkey vulture and red-tailed hawk are benefiting from other changes.
Speaking of the birds that HawkWatch believes are in trouble, Hoffman said, "The goshawk depends on forests, and we're losing our forests throughout the West."
Ravens, which are increasing their numbers because of man-made factors, compete with peregrines for nesting places. They get to the best cliff faces first, establish nests, and are able to fight off the peregrines. Therefore, the falcons have trouble reproducing.
The golden eagle seems to be declining, and maybe it's because the birds ingest lead pellets, used in hunting with shotguns. "Lead contamination appears to be widespread," he said, citing blood sampling studies carried out by HawkWatch in California and Montana.
Often, small game is blasted by "sports" men and women who leave the dead birds and rodents. Golden eagles, being scavengers, may feed on the carrion.
"If they ingest a single lead pellet it can drastically reduce their chance of survival," he said.
Hoffman spoke at the Patagonia Outlet, 3267 S. Highland Drive, to publicize the group's "Adopt A Hawk" program. People can buy gift "adoptions" for any of several species of raptors that HawkWatch captures and bands.
Over the years, HawkWatch has banded 15,000 birds. Of these, it had later reports on 75, helping to track their migrations. "For every 200 birds we band, we get information back on one."
Many of the banded birds whose bodies were found in Mexico were shot, he said.
The adopters will get a certificate and a photograph of that bird. The raptors are released, and if they are ever recaptured - or presumably if they are shot or killed on the highways - and then identified by their distinctive numbered bands, the adopters will be notified.
It's really a way to raise money for the non-profit organization. Hoffman said about a third of the group's money comes from adoptions.
The money goes for research programs. For example, one of the project's main efforts is at the Wellsville Mountains near Brigham City.
The Wellsvilles form one of the steepest mountain ranges in the world. The updrafts created by the sheer upthrust are used by thousands of raptors every year on their migrations from Canada and the northern United States to wintering grounds in Utah, Arizona and Mexico.
Actually, Hoffman is the biologist who discovered that the Wellsville Mountains are a major funneling point for raptors in the flyway. When he was a graduate student at Utah State University, 1973-78, he climbed to the mountaintop and counted 150 hawks in only three hours.
Now HawkWatch hires a professional to take a hawk census every year, a good way to track the changing size of the populations of these predators.
"We did have the lowest count this year that we've ever had," he said. This fall, only 2,432 hawks were counted from Wellsville Mountain, while there always were more than 3,000 in previous years.
He attributes the drop to the fact that in areas north of Utah, a wet spring meant that the breeding season was not as good as usual. That is probably only a short-term fluctuation, he said.