While birds of prey wowed people at the Vancouver Island Exhibition this past weekend, they also serve as security at Nanaimo’s landfill.
The garbage at the Cedar site attracts sea gulls, crows and ravens, and according to Aja Bueckert, a member of bird conservation group Pacific Northwest Raptors, which had a display at the annual agricultural fair at Beban Park, Harris’s hawks and red-tailed hawks are used to keep the nuisance birds away.
“[It’s] mostly gulls primarily, corvines, crows and ravens sometimes, but primarily gulls because they swarm. It’s a smorgasbord for them if [the hawks] were not there keeping on it,” said Bueckert.
“All we do is fly them. We patrol a radius around the active face and just the presence of a predator in the area alone keeps a lot of the pest species from going a little too crazy,” she said.
A key to keeping the hawks at their best is weight monitoring. Birds are weighed at the beginning of the work day to ensure that they are at optimal weight, which varies from bird to bird.
“Weight management is a very important step. It lets us know if they’re at their ideal flying weight range,” said Bueckert.
“It’ll also let us know if they’re feeling ill or anything. Birds in the wild will not show any sign of sickness or anything.”
Hawks have been known to fly away, but that is a rare occurrence. Bueckert said food is what keeps hawks in the fold – raw whole meat, such as venison, quail and chicken are part of their diet.
“It’s all positive reinforcement with food,” said Bueckert. “When we fly them, we do put a radio telemetry transmitter on their leg, just in case the wind blows them or an eagle or something startles them.”
Regional District of Nanaimo contracts Pacific Northwest Raptors to patrol the landfill.