Meet the Birds
Raptor Conservation in the USA
Brief history of threats to raptors
Of the utmost importance in falconry is the protection of the raptors involved. Overhunting, habitat loss/degradation, and the use of harmful chemicals such as DDT have been the primary causes of decline for many wildlife species in the United States. Birds of prey are particularly susceptible to the use of chemicals as pesticides because of their consumption of poisoned pests such as rodents and insects (visit hungryowls.org to learn more). DDT, a pesticide used widely for agriculture between the mid 1800's and late 1900's, had a myriad of negative effects to both humans and wildlife. For raptors, DDT caused eggshells to be so thin that eggs would crack during incubation, resulting in extremely low reproductive rates and therefore a major decline in virtually every bird population in the USA. In 1972, DDT was officially banned because of a raised awareness of the horrible effects of the chemical.
The feather trade was also a primary threat to all birds in the USA as feathers were prized for their use in fashion, furniture, and art. To combat the overhunting of birds for their feathers, congress passed the Lacey act and the Migratory Bird Treaty act to legally protect birds and wildlife.
Since the ban of DDT and the implementation of the Lacey act and migratory bird treaty act, raptor populations have stabilized but there are still threats to their populations. Falconers are important stewards of raptor conservation and science, as will be explained in the next sections.
Hunters were the first conservationists
In North America, the first group of people to recognize the decline of wildlife populations were the hunters. While hunters were partly responsible for the extirpation of species, they also realized that something needed to be done to preserve wildlife for future generations. The general public were mostly indifferent to the welfare of wildlife. Over the course of the 20th century, organizations of hunters established the first wildlife refuges to preserve their quarry. Subsequently, various legislation arose protecting wildlife and establishing professions within wildlife conservation including biologists, ecologists, and habitat managers. Perhaps the most valuable result from the conservation movement is The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. This model places wildlife in a public trust doctrine, meaning that wildlife belongs to no one and the government is trusted to create and enact laws and regulations to protect wildlife in the best interest of the public. On par with this model, falconry is regulated by the government so that raptor populations do not suffer from the sport. Many members of the public will ask a falconer if taking a bird from the wild will endanger the species, so in response the falconer must explain how federal and state regulations are in place to ensure that the take of wild raptors does not affect the wild population of the species. In fact, the participation of the public in hunting activities helps fund and support wildlife conservation.
Other concepts within the Model are the elimination of wildlife markets, hunting as a democracy, science as the proper tool for the discharge of policy, among other key concepts. Click here to view the most recently updated review of the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation.
Conservation Organizations in Virginia
There are many organizations in Virginia that a Virginia falconer can be involved in to represent and protect the sport of falconry.
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia
Raptor Hill Falconry
Virginia Society of Ornithology
Virginia Working Landscapes
Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia