What Constitutes A Threat To Birds Of Prey?

  • Environmental contaminants, including many pesticides and herbicides used in Agriculture (especially, DDT and heavy metals)
  • Habitat loss and degradation for urban, agricultural or industrial uses
  • Competition and predation from other predatory birds
  • Human disturbance
  • Illegal wildlife trade

Birds of Prey, or raptors, are a very important part of our ecosystem and play an essential role in maintaining the ecological balance. Birds of prey - such majestic birds - include species like owls, eagles, hawks and falcons. They face numerous threats worldwide that has put some of them on the endangered species list in many countries. Understanding these threats is necessary in order to develop strategies for effective conservation and public awareness and education.

Threats to Birds of Prey: Pesticides and Herbicides

In the 1940’s DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was developed as a synthetic pesticide. Its use was frequent and widespread throughout the 50’s and 60’s in the U.S. and was then adopted by other countries. DDT proved  exceptional at killing insects and pests. In the 1960’s it was discovered that there were environmental impacts of such widespread use of DDT and other insecticides. Consequently, its use was regulated and in the 1970’s it became a banned substance in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT is known to have a very long half life and remains in the environment for a long time. The effects of DDT are felt by humans, mammals, and insects alike and present by accumulating in fatty tissues. To this day, it is still a substance of concern - still being measured in many countries around the world.

The use of DDT almost destroyed a few species of birds of prey, one of them being the Peregrine Falcon. Peregrine falcons were almost extinct in the USA and the population was waining in Canada as well. These chemicals accumulated in the bodies of small animals typically hunted by birds of prey, lead to poisoning, nervous systems problems and reproductive issues. The pollutants have the capacity to thin the eggshells enough to severely decrease the viability of the offspring.

Image of wind turbines in a rowThreats to Birds of Prey: Habitat Loss

Habitat loss and degradation of the land from deforestation for agriculture and urban development is another serious issue for the continuation of Raptors (birds of Prey). As man continues to impede nesting sites, as well as hunting grounds, raptors are forced into less than ideal environments to live and raise their young.  Habitat loss also decreases the number of small mammals that are the main staple for raptors. As raptors are pushed into unsuitable areas, they find themselves navigating an urban jungle with yet more obstacles.

Threats to Birds of Prey: Urban Development

Power lines, communication towers and wind turbines dot the skylines of most countries in the world now. All these man made structures can cause damage or death to birds, including raptors. This is a significant anthropogenic threat to wildlife in general. Power lines carrying high voltage will electrocute any bird that lands on “hot” wires. Even vehicles on roadways travelling at great speed can cause significant damage. Conservation efforts are being made to design wildlife friendly wind turbines and roadways to help mitigate death and damage to birds and other wildlife.

Threats to Birds of Prey: Humans

People often interfere directly or indirectly with wildlife in general. Human disturbances near nesting site will lower breeding success in many raptors. People have been known to shoot at raptors, either for sport or because they fear them. Some may think they pose a danger to livestock or game species.

Then there is still the illegal capture and trade of raptors that continues to be of international significance. Despite laws and regulations put in place internationally, people will want an unusual “pet” or get into falconry. This leads to poaching that can crucially impact local populations of some species.

Raptors, and wildlife in general, face diverse and plentiful threats to their continued existence. Many countries world wide have put conservation laws and regulations in effect to protect raptors. Individuals and organizations such as Hawkeye Bird & Animal Control work to rehabilitate injured raptors and reintroduce them to the wild. More large scale monitoring and research is necessary to understand the ecology of raptors and the effectiveness of strategies used to mitigate dangers and to protect wildlife in general. As always, public education is necessary, as is limiting and controlling pollution that can harm wildlife. Raptors are part of the earth's ecosystem. To keep our ecosystem healthy, we must protect all wildlife, including the magnificent raptors.


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