Stormy couple of weeks leave endangered birds battered
May 2, 2007
By JIM WRIGHT
It's been a tough few weeks for birds on New Jersey's endangered species list.
A red-shouldered hawk in Allendale suffered head injuries Tuesday when it flew into a window just yards from its nest. And last month's nor'easter washed a peregrine falcon nest off a cliff in Alpine.
Other birds, from bald eagles to piping plovers, were hard hit by the storm.
The lost falcons' nest -- which had eggs in it -- and the hawk's injuries lengthen the odds against either birds' producing of offspring this year.
"When you're talking about endangered species, you are talking about fewer birds, so you want every nesting season to be a success," said Kathy Clark, principal zoologist for New Jersey's Endangered and Non-game Species Program. "Unfortunately, that's just not the way it is."
Though the peregrine falcons had nested in obscurity on the cliffs above the Hudson River Palisades, the red-shouldered hawk and his mate have become celebrities in parts of Allendale and Ramsey along the Franklin Turnpike near Crescent Avenue.
The hawk apparently flew into a front window of a home on Iroquois Avenue on Tuesday morning, hitting it so hard it knocked a small cross onto the floor. The homeowner found the bird motionless and reported it to Allendale Marsh Warden Stiles Thomas.
The hawk's injury came at a critical time in the breeding cycle. The female is thought to be ready to hatch eggs at the current nest on Iroquois Avenue -- and the male is the sole food provider.
After the accident Tuesday, Allendale Marsh Warden Stiles Thomas brought the hawk to the Raptor Trust in Millington.
The extent of the hawk's injuries won't be determined until today or Thursday, when a bird doctor will take X-rays to check for broken bones. The hawk had been "knocked silly," with blood in its mouth, and it likely suffered a concussion, said Kristi Ward, an avian rehabilitator.
In a best-case scenario, the bird could return to the nest in several days. If it has a broken shoulder bone or central nervous system injury, recovery would take weeks or months.
Len Soucy, director of the Raptor Trust, said that it is bad news when any raptor is injured, but it's worse when it's a red-shouldered hawk.
"We get red-tailed hawks in here all the time," he said, "but red-shouldereds we don't get so often, so that makes it a double-whammy."
The loss of the male, even temporarily, would make it tough for the female, who now has to tend to the nest and find all the food, Soucy said.
Red-shouldered hawks are relatively rare in North Jersey, and the state Department of Environmental Protection has classified them as endangered during the nesting cycle.
Since 2002, the hawk and its mate have nested six times in the area and they are almost considered part of the neighborhood -- to the point where they swoop down and eat raw steak out of one resident's hand.
Soucy said humans could do nothing to help this situation.
"When people try to intercede, they usually just mess things all up," he said. "The hawks have been at this for 14 million years, so we kind of leave them alone."
The outlook for the peregrine falcons in Alpine is a bit more hopeful, Clark said.
The nor'easter washed away their nest and eggs from a cliff near the Alpine Boat Basin, but there are signs that they have already re-nested.
Still, it is unclear whether any offspring will result.
"It's kind of late [for a successful re-nesting], but the window is still open for them," Clark said.
Overall, there are 20 peregrine falcon nests statewide and three in Bergen County. Considered the fastest birds in the world -- with top speeds approaching 200 miles an hour -- they were virtually non-existent in the East a half-century ago as a result of the pesticide DDT, which made the eggshells so thin that they broke during incubation.
The nor'easter also washed away at least three of roughly 60 bald eagle nests statewide. Some beach-nesting birds, such as the piping plover, had their nests destroyed by the storm's high tides as well, Clark said.
But the storm had a silver lining for at least one type of amphibian, the vernal-pool breeders.
"The spade-footed toad is a species that only comes out during heavy rains," she said. "It can go years without breeding."
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