Solving Human-Avian Conflicts & Encouraging Coexistence (Part 2)

September 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Continued from Part 1

Common Human-Avian Conflict Mitigation Methods

Regardless of the individual circumstances that exist for each human-avian conflict event, many mitigation methods are available to address these situations. A successful mitigation program will most likely involve a combination of several different techniques that take into consideration the environmental conditions of the area, the funding that is available, the severity and nature of the conflict, and the level of community support that exists for the program. The goal of the program should be to use the most cost effective, least intrusive mitigation methods, leading to peaceful human/avian coexistence.

When developing a wildlife conflict resolution program, all stakeholders should have the opportunity to voice their concerns and to participate in the design of a mitigation program. A comprehensive education program should also be initiated to diffuse highly volatile situations, eliminate misconceptions, increase community support, and improve attitudes and tolerance levels (Baruch-Mordo et al, 2011). Educational programs may include public forums, school programs, solicitation of support from industry and governmental entities, distribution of educational materials and other methods (Baruch-Mordo et al, 2011).

Next, the habitat should be modified as much as possible to make it less attractive to the species causing the conflict. The habitat should be examined to see if there are things present that are attracting the birds such as food, water, nesting materials, and ground cover for rodents. Removal of these items, if possible, and cleaning around the area by mowing tall grasses and cutting down dead trees that harbor insects and provide nesting sites should decrease the attractiveness of the habitat (Mengak, 2013). If the problem persists, attractants can be separated from the birds with barriers. Bringing cows that are preparing to give birth into shelters, storing grain and hay inside barns and silos, and placing chickens in a secure coop can prevent access to attractants (Lowney, 1999). Another option is to move attractants to a safe location. The Kea Conservation Trust is utilizing diversionary areas filled with desirable enrichment items to lure birds away from dangerous car parks.

Thoughtful urban planning can also reduce wildlife conflict situations. Power companies can install rounded protection devices on utility poles to prevent monk parakeets from building nests on them, and can design electricity pylons that prevent the electrocution of raptors (Newman et al, 2008). Wind energy farms can implement bird-friendly technology and operation methods and be placed away from important bird migration routes (American Bird Conservancy, 2013). Wildlife crossings can be installed to allow animals to migrate across roadways (Metro, 2014).

Another approach to reducing human-avian wildlife conflict situations is to reduce the incentive for people to harm the birds. These methods are most effective when the avian species population involved is endangered or threatened. First, laws should be instituted to protect the species. Next, these laws must be strictly enforced (Cross et al, 2013). Then, if possible, incentive programs should be implemented to improve attitudes. These incentives should provide benefits to the people who are suffering losses but are not harming the birds. Types of incentives include reimbursing farmers for crop and livestock losses, replacing property that was damaged by the birds or providing people with the materials necessary to deter the birds at no cost (Decker et al, 2002).

If the above methods are ineffective, more intrusive deterrents may be necessary to harass the birds from congregating in the area. These can include audio deterrents, visual deterrents, tactile deterrents and chemical repellents (Mengak, 2013). Audio deterrents harass the birds by emitting scary or unappealing sounds. These can include loud booms, pyrotechnics or recordings of predator calls. Visual deterrents may include flashing lights, scarecrows, balloons, waving ribbons, a mounted owl figure or silhouette cutouts of predators attached to windows. Tactile deterrents may include motion-activated water sprinklers or spikes mounted on perching sites. Lastly, there are several chemical repellents available from commercial retailers that are safe and effective, but these preparations can be expensive and may require multiple applications (Stevens & Clark, 1998). Most harassment methods are only useful for a short time period because the birds become habituated to them. These methods are most effective for conflict situations that only last for a short duration, such as during migration season (Mengak, 2013).

If all other mitigation methods have failed, it may be necessary to relocate or cull offending animals. Relocations are usually reserved for protected species and must be well-planned, otherwise they may result in moving the same problem to another location or in the death of the animal. Most avian species have the ability to travel great distances and may have homing capabilities, so the relocation must be sufficiently far away and provide attractive habitat so the bird doesn’t return to the original area (Decker et al, 2002). Culling of offending individuals is a last resort and can result in unanticipated fallout. In protected species, the loss of the individual’s genetic variability may affect the overall health of the population. Behavior associated with human conflict may also be associated with subgroups of the population so culling may result in population skewing. Examples include culling females of a species who are more likely to aggressively defend nesting sites, removing the dominant bird in a family group, or removing individuals who possess greater exploratory behavior, a trait that has supported the species’ survival in the past (Orr-Walker et al, 2012).


Human-wildlife conflict situations can have a significant impact on the welfare of the people affected and on the wildlife species involved. These conflicts can significantly impair conservation initiatives as well. The types of conflict vary greatly. Each case must be evaluated individually and mitigation plans must be designed based on each situation’s specific needs. The goal should be to create a cost-efficient plan that uses the least intrusive methods necessary to effectively address the situation.

Local participation in policy-making and a comprehensive educational program are necessary first steps if mitigation programs are to succeed long-term. Attention to the complex social issues involved in the conflict is also important. Familiarity with the ecology of the avian species of concern and the mitigation strategies available will also assist in the creation of a successful mitigation program. Peaceful coexistence between the humans and the wildlife should be the primary goal.

References for this article can be found on the author’s bio page.

Article submitted by Jackie R. Bray, Graduate Student MA Biology – Project Dragonfly at Miami University Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – Cincinnati, Ohio

Solving Human-Avian Conflicts & Encouraging Coexistence (Part 1)

September 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Human-wildlife conflict is a significant conservation issue. As human populations continue to increase, habitats previously occupied by wildlife are repurposed for human use. This can cause displacement of wildlife into human inhabited areas or provide suitable conditions for pest species, such as rats, raccoons and pigeons, to multiply unchecked. Close contact between people and wildlife leads to opportunities for conflict. The very survival of many wildlife species is in jeopardy because of conflict with humans. Types of conflict vary widely, depending on the species involved and the circumstances of each individual situation. There are just as many methods available to diminish these conflicts. Regrettably, hostility toward wildlife often endures even after conflict issues are successfully addressed. Human perceptions of the risk involved with wildlife presence and the damage that wildlife can inflict is influenced by many social issues. These social issues may include childhood experiences with wildlife, cultural beliefs and human-human conflicts. To successfully mitigate human-wildlife conflict issues long term, thoughtful consideration of the social issues affecting the local community and the mitigation strategies available for the particular situation must be understood (Dickman, 2010).

Comprehensive understanding of the species and the nuances of the particular conflict situation are necessary for successful resolution. After discussing the human factors involved in wildlife conflict, this study will focus on identifying trends involved in conflict situations between humans and avian species, the mitigation strategies available to encourage humans and avian wildlife to coexist, and the social issues that fuel conflict situations with avian species.


Different stakeholders can have conflicting concerns. It may be difficult to objectively assess the importance of these concerns and decide the best way to prioritize them. Quantifying these priorities using multiple criteria analyses may help decision makers assess priorities more fairly (Redpath et al, 2003). In the United Kingdom, Redpath and colleagues (2003) used multiple criteria analysis and resolution techniques to address conflicts between conservationists working to protect the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and game managers concerned with providing sustainable populations of Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) for hunting. Raptors, such as the Hen Harrier, reduce the number of Red Grouse available for harvest by game hunters. The stakeholders agreed to attend a weekend symposium where they could discuss their individual priorities. These priorities were organized and participants were asked to quantitatively rank the importance of each. This ranking allowed facilitators to demonstrate where the groups agreed, providing a foundation for actions that could be taken to benefit both parties. The greater benefit of the project was to initiate constructive dialog between the stakeholders and alleviate some of the mistrust that existed between them (Redpath et al, 2003). The symposium was a first step to long term solutions that required interdisciplinary approaches and cooperation between all parties involved, and serves as a model for other conservation projects. Stakeholders can range from a few individuals to organizations, and from local to world communities. Mitigating human-wildlife conflict issues demands acknowledgement of all stakeholders involved and careful consideration of the different perspectives these stakeholders have on the situation. In the past it has not been uncommon for conservation organizations or government entities to move into an area and make wide-sweeping decisions that affect the local community, assuming the community will cooperate. Instead, an increase in hostility toward the wildlife often occurs (see Table 1) (Dickman, 2010).

Table 1: Stakeholders that could have interest in conservation initiatives and the unique perspectives they bring to the conversation.

Actual Human Impacts

Conflicts with wildlife can have significant impacts on the people involved, with actual risks coming in many forms. The health and safety of residents is the highest priority in any conflict situation. Health and safety issues include attacks on people by wildlife, risks of injury from collisions with wildlife, contamination of human water or food supplies from feces and direct disease transmission from wildlife to humans (Begg & Kushnir, 2011).

Next, there are biological risks. Biological risks include predation or disease transmission from wildlife to livestock or pets. Health, safety and biological risks usually provide the strongest arguments for the removal of wildlife from an area and are less likely to face harsh challenges from opposing points of view.

Psychological risks may be associated with human health issues. The fear and distress suffered by some people residing near dangerous wildlife can destroy their quality of life and exacerbate conflict situations. Psychological risks should be addressed sensitively as a legitimate human impact if long-term conflict mitigation programs are to succeed.

Then there are economic risks. Economic risks can include a broad range of impacts such as loss of income or livelihood, loss of property, and loss of economic opportunities by the impositions of wildlife. Economic risks often fuel bitter conflicts between stakeholders with conflicting priorities and can lead to serious social and cultural conflict situations (Omondi, 1994).

Human-wildlife conflicts that involve social and cultural risks are incredibly difficult to manage because the real issues fueling the conflict are often less about the wildlife and more about the human-human conflicts that surround the wildlife issue (Dickman, 2010). Social risks often involve the marginalization of a group of people by authorities, especially when the group does not feel they have a voice in the situation. The group may be suffering economic losses because of conservation initiatives or may have been forced to relocate. These situations can lead to civil disobedience and escalated conflict. Social issues can also involve a group’s feelings of entitlement over wildlife or a species. National heritage or religious attitudes may be associated with wildlife conflict (Hazzah, 2006). As an example, In the United States the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits, among other things, the possession, use or sale of eagle feathers (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009). In response to opposition from Native Americans, a memorandum was added to the law in 1994 permitting the use of eagle feathers for Native American religious and cultural purposes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).

Cultural risks are essentially the same as social risks, but involve deeply ingrained beliefs in the collective identity of certain social groups. An example of a human-wildlife conflict from our own history that was fueled by cultural implications was the conflict between European settlers and Native Americans surrounding the North American Bison. The Europeans massacred bison for sport and profit, harming the Native Americans that depended upon the bison for survival (Taylor, 2011). Hypothetically, if the Europeans had later wanted to implement a conservation program where Native Americans could no longer hunt bison, the conflict that arose would be less about the bison and more about the conflict between the two social groups.

Issues That Affect Attitudes and Perceptions

A considerable challenge in addressing human impacts is accurate assessment of the degree of actual risk involved versus the perceived risk by those affected (Boholm, 1998). The relationship and experience people have with nature will influence how they interact with nature and will affect their degree of tolerance when conflict issues arise. Many factors influence public opinion regarding wildlife conflict issues and these opinions are often emotionally charged. Giving stakeholders the opportunity to express their opinions and respectfully validating that their feelings have merit can help them find common ground and promote cooperation.

There are several common factors that can affect public attitudes and their perceptions of loss and risk. Socio-economic factors such as age, sex, level of education, wealth and the system of land ownership present in the affected area are all important influences on the individual’s perceptions (Omondi, 1994). The person’s childhood experiences with nature will also influence their perceptions in adulthood. Children that had the opportunity to spend time outside connecting with nature are more likely to grow into adults that have positive attitudes and empathy for wildlife (Sobel, 1996).

Past personal experiences will obviously affect attitudes. If an individual has suffered a dangerous close encounter, property damage or an economic loss related to wildlife, they will likely have strong opinions related to conservation efforts. They are also in a position to greatly influence the opinions of others in their community. The severity of any negative experiences will affect attitudes as well. Was an actual loss sustained or was the individual just inconvenienced? What was the nature of past conflict situations? The degree of the problem might not be as severe if it only occurs for a short duration, such as seasonally, versus a problem that persists constantly. The person’s past experience with conservation initiatives will impact their trust in future programs. Were previous government compensation programs administered fairly? Were previously attempted damage control measures effective? Did the local community benefit from ecotourism programs? Failure of previous programs will affect support for future programs (Dickman, 2010).

Attitudes can also be influenced by indirect sources such as mass media, the sharing of experiences from other members of the community, and the historical conflicts from the individual’s culture. When Steve Irwin was accidently killed by a stingray in 2006, Australian conservation officials had to plead with the public to stop killing stingrays out of vengeance (Johnson, 2006). Sensationalized news stories, exaggerated testimonials and cultural folklore can have significant impact on individual attitudes toward wildlife (Prokop et al, 2009).

Types of Human-Avian Conflict

The types of human-wildlife conflict that commonly involve avian species fall within several broad categories. Certain species are associated with particular types of conflict because the type of conflict is often associated with the natural ecology of the species. Each event should be evaluated on the specific circumstances of the situation (see Table 2).

Table 2: The varying types of human-avian conflict, and the species and details associated with that form of conflict.

References for this article can be found on the author’s bio page.

Article submitted by Jackie R. Bray, Graduate Student MA Biology – Project Dragonfly at Miami University Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – Cincinnati, Ohio

Continued in Part 2

Great Adirondack Birding Celebration 2015

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

The The 13th annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration is scheduled for 5-7 June 2015, at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Paul Smiths, New York.

The event will feature field trips to boreal birding hot spots, informative lectures, and workshops. Field trips include: two all-day birding trips on Friday (Birding Across the Adirondacks and Birding the St. Lawrence Valley), plus a selection of half-day field trips on Saturday and Sunday (Bloomingdale Bog, Whiteface Mountain, Intervale Lowlands, Madawaska Flow, Birding by Ear at the VIC, Beginner Birder Workshop at the VIC, and Heaven Hill Farm/John Brown Homestead).

The keynote speaker is Chris Rimmer, conservation biologist and founding director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. He will speak on the conservation of the Bicknell’s Thrush, drawing on the findings of twenty years of research. Some of the boreal species that participants in the birding festival hope to find include the Black-backed Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, Bicknell’s Thrush and a variety of migrating warblers, including the Golden-winged Warbler.

The 3,000-acre Paul Smiths VIC contains every habitat type found in the Adirondack Park with the exception of alpine vegetation. Included on the property is a 60-acre marsh, five ponds, several brooks and swamps, bogs, fens, and varied forest types, most notably northern boreal forest. The site includes significant glacial and geological features and provides scenic vistas of Saint Regis Mountain and Jenkins Mountain. The VIC property includes over 25 miles of trails, including 6 miles of interpretive trails.

For more information:

Date: 5-7 June 2014
Venue: Paul Smiths College Visitor Interpretive Center
City: New York

Giant Ibis: On the Edge of Existence

July 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Launched by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in January 2007, the EDGE of Existence program is a global conservation initiative that focuses on threatened species with unique evolutionary characteristics. EDGE is an acronym for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which sums up some of the criteria for being included on the EDGE list. Recently scientists from the ZSL and Yale University assessed the 9,993 recorded bird species in the world and listed the top 100 according to various scientific parameters. The top ten on the list, from one to ten, includes the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea); the New Caledonian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi); the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus); the kakapo (Strigops habroptila); the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus); Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis); the Forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti); the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi); Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi); and the Sumatran ground cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis).

As the world’s largest ibis, the giant ibis measures up to 106 cm in length with an upright standing height of up to a meter and weighing 4.2 kg on average. They have long, curved beaks that they use for foraging in shallow waters and between vegetation, with their diets including aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as earthworms, locusts, mole-crickets, cicadas and other insects. Their feathers are dark gray-brown in color, with silver-grey wing tips and black crossbars. Their heads are dark grey in color and devoid of feathers and their eyes are dark red. Their legs are orange and they have yellow-brown beaks. There are thought to be only 230 pairs of giant ibis left in the wild, and these are all located in northern Cambodia, although there have been unconfirmed sightings in southern Laos and in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park. Because of their remote location, not much is known about the lifespan and breeding patterns of these giant birds, however, it is known that they nest in trees, generally away from human settlements, and the female lays two eggs which both parents tend to.

As is the case with many endangered bird species around the world, the greatest threat to the giant ibis is humans who clear the wetlands for cultivation and decimate forests for timber, while the increase in human populations results in domestic settlements encroaching on previously unoccupied land. Conflict in the region has also wreaked havoc on bird populations, and the giant ibis is hunted as a food source.

There are some ecotourism initiatives in the region which draw attention to the plight of the giant ibis, but the fact remains that it is considered critically endangered and is in need of protection to prevent it from becoming extinct. Programs such as Edge bring the plight of these endangered birds to the attention of the public, increasing their chances of becoming the focus of conservation efforts.

Drone Technology in Bird Conservation

May 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

As technology advances, more and more applications are being found for the use of drones – unmanned aerial systems – which were initially developed primarily for military use. Conservationists have recognized the value of having ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in vast untamed regions where poaching is a problem, and countries like Namibia and Nepal are making use of drones to monitor vulnerable wildlife and stop poachers before they strike, rather than tracking them down and catching them after the damage is done. The potential for using drones in bird conservation efforts is diverse, and in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is reportedly using drone technology to monitor the nests of rare birds and introduced species.

Designed by Nigel Butcher of the RSPB, the drone is powered by six small electric motors that run so quietly they barely make a sound, and most importantly, do not disturb the birds. Using the marsh harrier as an example, Butcher notes that entering the area around the nests to put up cameras may result in the parents deserting the nest, a behavior they are known for. The drone, on the other hand, can fly in and film activity in the nest, transmitting images via live video feed to researchers. Moreover, birds and mammals that are active at night can be tracked with the use of thermal imaging technology, providing valuable information to researchers.

In addition to monitoring the breeding patterns of marsh harriers and bitterns, the drone technology is being used to keep track of cranes and corncrakes which are being reintroduced into areas in the UK, from where they had disappeared. Drones will also be used to film inaccessible nesting areas in the Minsmere Reserve for the BBC Spring Watch series. Located on the Suffolk coast, RSPB Minsmere is one of the UK’s most biodiverse reserves, and viewers will have the opportunity to see some of its natural bounty right in their own homes, starting on May 26 and running for three weeks.

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