For the Birds Radio Program: Birds in the News: Great Horned Owl, poaching, bird flu, and safer rice crops

Original Air Date: Nov. 16, 2004

The Great Horned Owl is the only raptor in Minnesota that is not protected legally in the state. Customs found Mountain Hawk-Eagles in a poacher’s bag. Bird flu is now being found in Russia. And the RSPB is recommending organic, bird-compatible rice crops.

Duration: 4′29″


Believe it or not, Great Horned Owls are on the “unprotected bird” list in Minnesota, right along with English sparrows and starlings. (They are the only raptor in Minnesota on this list.) Oddly, they are protected by federal law, but that’s the way the state law stands. No other states in the Midwest exempt the Great Horned Owl from legal protection. Minnesota also allows some pole trapping for Great Horned Owls.

Karla Kinstler of Houston, Minnesota, has been working with Representative Ray Cox, a legislator with a degree in biology who is vice-chair of the natural resource policy committee on this matter. He did a lot of background work last year, but indicated the legislature would have more time to deal with the issue in the longer session that’s coming up. The state agencies would have a little extra work if the Great Horned Owl were to be considered a protected bird are not opposed to this change.

Now that the elections are over (Ray Cox was re-elected), we encourage all Minnesotans who find the current law regarding Great Horned Owls to be outdated to please contact our local representative and senator to give them a heads-up on the issue. That should make Ray Cox’s job easier. There’s more information on my website.

On October 18, customs officials at the Brussels airport seized two Mountain Hawk-Eagles from Thailand that had been concealed in a passenger’s baggage. The customs officials were acting within the framework of strengthened controls on traffic from Southeast Asia. Such security moves were introduced at the beginning of the year following the spread of an avian influenza epidemic, which has recently also claimed human victims. Throughout the year, the European Union has strictly prohibited the importation of birds from Southeast Asia.

While the raptors did not show any initial signs of the disease, the birds were later found to be positive for avian influenza virus, the strain type identical to that circulating in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, the same influenza strain has been discovered in migratory birds in Russia, on the west-Siberian plain, just northeast of Kazakhstan. This strain is reportedly carried by ducks and geese that had previously passed through Southeast Asia. An analysis of tests obtained from the birds in the spring and early fall is expected this month. The area in question is, according to Russian officials, “a rather sparsely populated area with many lakes; therefore, direct contact of the carrier birds with people is unlikely.”

Wild, migratory waterfowl and other waterbirds are suspected of playing a significant role in the spread of these viruses. Efforts to cull these wild birds to control the spread of avian influenza are highly controversial are are probably ineffective.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Great Britain, is cooperation with the Sociedad Española de Ornitologia of Spain is promoting organic rice from the bird-packed Ebro Delta of Spain. Spain produces a quarter of all the rice grown in Europe; much is planted in an unsympathetic way—with widespread pesticide use, for example—however some is organically grown. The RSPB (in conjunction with Suma Wholefoods) has launched its own organic bird-compatible rice. The Ebro Delta, where the rice originates, is loaded with bitterns, egrets, herons, coots, terns, shorebirds, ducks, and wetland-associated songbirds. The Ebro Delta is the second-most-important Important Bird Area in Spain. Buying this pesticide-free rice, therefore, is a way to help sustain these bird populations. We hope that Americans will be next to promote organic rice as a way consumers can directly help birds.