The Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center has had a grim start to the new year because of one or more shooters in the Tri-City area.
Three sick hawks have been brought to the Pendleton center in recent days from Kennewick and Finley.
X-rays showed all had been shot with some type of lead ammunition.
The problem is all too common, said Lynn Tompkins, executive director of the nonprofit rescue agency, and Jason Fidorra, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist covering Benton and Franklin counties.
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It is just the tip of the iceberg, what is transported (to the center). Many are never found in the brush or die.
Jason Fidorra, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist
Blue Mountain Wildlife took in about 43 birds that had been shot in southeastern Washington and eastern Oregon in 2015. The total was about half that in 2016 and back up to 30 in 2017.
They included golden and bald eagles, several types of hawks, owls and a great blue heron, Tompkins said.
But the number of illegally gunshot birds is much larger than the Blue Mountain Wildlife statistics suggest, Fidorra said.
“Many are never found in the brush or die,” he said.
Smaller birds, in particular, like woodpeckers and a kingfisher that was recently found, generally don’t survive long enough to be found alive.
“It is an ongoing issue,” Fidorra said. “There’s no real defensible reason for why it continues. Many species shot are not a risk to pets or livestock.”
Fidorra doesn’t blame hunters.
“It is most likely people targeting birds for fun,” he said.
The three Tri-City-area hawks recently found were shot with lead ammunition, either with a rifle or a shotgun.
Hunters during the current waterfowl season are banned from using lead ammunition. In addition, the raptors found were upland birds rather than birds found most commonly near water.
One of the three birds was a red-tailed hawk found in Columbia Park in Kennewick after the first of this year, with a single shot to the shoulder.
It’s the most commonly seen hawk in the Tri-City area, Fidorra said.
Another was a sharp-shinned hawk, one of the smallest hawks in the area, found in Finley after the first of the year, he said.
A single shot had enough force to mangle one of its wings. The bird weighed less than half a pound.
Both birds were too seriously injured to be able to fly again and were euthanized.
“We don’t save most of them,” Tompkins said. The center is lucky to be able to nurse back to health 20 to 30 percent of birds brought in with gunshot injuries, she said.
Sometimes the birds surprise her. A year ago a red-tailed hawk was found in Yakima with two broken legs. It had been on the ground for likely three or four weeks and was starving and had frostbite, but after six months at the center it was released back into the wild, she said.
Tompkins has some hope for the third hawk recently brought to the center, but its future remains uncertain.
On Dec. 27, a rough-legged hawk was found on Finley Road. Rough-legged hawks breed in the Arctic and come south to winter, including in Eastern Washington.
An X-ray showed five small lead pellets in the hawk’s wings, four of them in the right wing.
Tompkins is most concerned about damage to the second joint down from the right shoulder, what she calls the wrist joint. Although no pellet hit the joint, pellets hit with enough force above and below the joint that it appears damaged in the X-ray.
The bird also had lead poisoning, likely caused by earlier ingesting lead ammunition. Lead contamination is common in the birds the center takes in, Tompkins said.
The center splinted the wing for a week, and the bird is spending time in a small cage that keeps it from moving too much.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to rehabilitate it,” Tompkins said. “(But) it has more strikes against it than for it.”
If the wrist joint does not heal with enough flexibility for flight, the rough-legged hawk also may be euthanized. In some cases, if birds don’t appear to be in pain but cannot be returned to the wild, the center can keep them and use them in its educational programs for schoolchildren and others.
What we do to critters out there, we do to ourselves.
Lynn Tompkins, executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education
Finding the shooters in such cases can be difficult. But when state Fish and Wildlife officers have a suspect, the person is treated like other accused poachers and turned over for prosecution.
The Washington state penalty for illegally killing raptors is a misdemeanor punishable with 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000 per bird. An additional penalty of $2,000 can be added for certain birds, including ferruginous hawks, bald or golden eagles, peregrine falcons or common loons.
The shooter also can be fined under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act up to $15,000 per bird killed, and more for bald and golden eagles under the Federal Eagle Act, Fidorra said.
The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act covers native bird species in North America, including game birds shot outside of hunting seasons.
Larger raptors that survive to adulthood are fairly long-lived, surviving for 15 to 25 years, Fidorra said.
Both the red-tailed hawk and rough-legged hawk eat many mice and rats, which benefits agriculture and the community, he said.
When the Blue Mountain Wildlife center posted a photo on Facebook Friday of the rough-legged hawk it is trying to save, comments were posted blaming hawks for killing small pets.
Call the Washington state poaching hotline with information about shot birds at 877-933-9847. For a bird rescue, call Blue Mountain Wildlife at 541-278-0215.
Not true, Tompkins said.
Even the red-tailed hawk brought in recently weighed only about two pounds, she said. That’s less than a chihuahua.
Sharp-shinned hawks do eat smaller birds and can be attracted to bird feeders.
“You have to look at it from the sharp-shinned hawks point of view,” Tompkins said. “Someone’s created a McDonald’s drive-thru for them.”
She tells the schoolchildren she visits that birds are on the Earth for good reason, including keeping the rodent population in check.
“What we do to critters out there, we do to ourselves,” she tells them.
People who want to report birds being illegally shot or who have information about a shooting should call the state Fish and Wildlife nonemergency hotline at 877-933-9847. Poaching in progress may be reported to 911.
People who find a live bird that cannot fly may have found a bird that has been shot. If you can capture it, it’s a good indication it has been shot, Fidoora said.
The exception is a young bird that may have just left the nest in springtime. It should be left alone or possibly moved to a safer nearby place, like a shrub, where a parent can still find it.
To contact Blue Mountain Wildlife for a bird rescue, call 541-278-0215. It has volunteers in the Tri-City area who can transport an injured bird to the Pendleton center.
The center depends on donations and memberships for 70 percent of its funding.