Studying SoCal Hawks

Some red tailed and red shoulder hawks in Southern California can take long-distance summer trips as far away as Idaho, raptor expert Pete Bloom recently told an audience of Audubon members and interested public at the Audubon Center in Debs Park.

“We call these birds vagrants or ‘Magellans’ because they are charting into unknown territory,” he said about the birds that he’s been studying for more than 40 years.

Bloom, a legend when it comes to all things birding, spoke to a packed house and discussed main points of his dissertation that involved studies of migration patterns and vagrancy activities of these hawks which are a mainstay in many Los Angeles neighborhoods. (They love to nest in electrical poles…take a look.)

Throughout the years, Bloom estimates that he has banded about 45,000 hawks – he uses data from those hawks to determine patterns and the health of the species. Bloom said that about a decade ago, he would have considered the species “stable,” but lately he’s seeing strange and unusual behaviors.

“If I had to give an educated guess, I think we are seeing rat poison taking its toll,” he said explaining that homeowners and businesses that use toxic poisons and traps for rats don’t see the consequences of their action. Raptors – along with other urban mammals like mountain lions and bobcats – get their claws on infected rats and they too become infected.  “I could talk for three hours on the dangers of rodenticide,” said Bloom. “It’s this century’s DDT. Animals are being poisoned daily.”

Bloom did not rule out West Nile Virus and climate change as other factors affecting local raptors; even wind turbines present dangers to the migrating hawks.