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

Interesting Behavior of Black-billed Magpie – Part 1

August 5, 2014 by  
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I have been observing black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia Sabine) for the past nine years and found the species to demonstrate some interesting behavior. I first noted aggressive behavior of the species on the summer (June) of 2004 while I started working on my Masters degree at the University of Lethbridge. The incident took place on the green areas within the university campus close to the Aperture Drive. It appeared to me from a distance that some birds were fighting over the carcass of a Richardson’s ground squirrel on the ground. On closer inspection I saw that the carcass was fiercely contested by a black-billed magpie against three marauding crows. What was quite fascinating to note was that the magpie, which we always saw flying away at the slightest movement, stood its ground boldly, held the carcass to the best of its ability and repeatedly hit back at the approaching crows while it also feasted on the meat every now and then. The incident took place for about 5 minutes, after which the crows gave up, chased away by the defending magpie that finally retained its claim on the carcass.

Looking at the fury and the aggressiveness of the magpie I was quite amazed. It flew to the nearby tree shade holding the carcass in its feet and peacefully kept on feasting when I left for my nearby apartment across the main road. They are extremely inquisitive about human reactions and behavior. Parents are quite aggressively protective of their nests and young ones and they take very good care of their young ones. As far as I remember both parents take turns and share the burden of raising the nestlings, bringing food for them continuously so that the chicks grow up fast. The aggressiveness in them is possibly due to the fact that they share a common phylogenetic relationship and belong to the broad family of Corvidae including jackdaws, crows and ravens, rooks, treepies all known for their aggressive reactions under adverse situations.

Early in the summer of 2005, I was jogging along the university lake that is surrounded by an artificial wood. While moving across the corner, I was attracted to the constant calls of the magpie and ventured into that direction. On the ground I saw three new chicks that may have learnt to possibly come out of the nest and venture around. I scanned the nearby places to look for any sign of a nest but was interrupted by the parents. They did not attack me, but started flying in and around me and landing on nearby shrubs and bushes with constant alarm calls. They were extremely vigilant and that paid off. Being annoyed by their constant calls I decided to get back to my jogging trail instead of searching for their nest. But as I turned back, I was surprised to see that 3-4 adult magpies had joined the two parents and were visibly annoyed with my intrusion into their territory. The hue and cry they raised together as a formidable force pushed me out of the wood into the jogging trail. None of them bombed dive at me or attacked me on the head at any stage, but they did fly from one tree branch to another along my jogging trail for a minute or so following me as if to deter me from ever getting back to their hidden nesting site. The behavior surprised me as I have never seen them ganging up together before and realized that may be a strategy they have learnt to practice possibly from previous experiences where they may have found this combined vigilance of their clustered nesting sites for protection is an effective strategy to ward off intruders.

Continued in Part Two

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

CFO Annual Convention 2014

July 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

The special guest speaker at the CFO Annual Convention evening banquet will be author and expert on the identification and distribution of North American birds Jon L. Dunn. Features of the convention include field trips, research paper presentations, workshops, and exhibitors. For more information visit

Dates: 28-31 August 2014
Venue: Stirling
State: Colorado

Radio Waves May Disrupt Birds’ Magnetic Compass

June 24, 2014 by  
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While the navigational skills of birds remain largely unexplained, the theory that they use the magnetic field of the earth to some degree to map their positions is generally accepted. The magnetic field of the earth is weakest at the equator, becoming stronger toward the north and south poles. This change in magnetic strength may give birds an estimate of their latitude while in flight. This amazing ability to navigate is especially evident in homing pigeons which are able to find their way home over distances of as much as 1,100 miles (1,800 km) with unwavering accuracy. Research has revealed that pigeons have a significant number of iron particles on top of their beaks, which act as a natural compass to guide them, along with visual landmarks and olfactory markers.

It has long been debated whether manmade electromagnetic fields are detrimental to human health, and conservationists share this concern when it comes to animals, particularly migratory birds. A recent study by scientists from Oldenburg University in Germany has found that manmade electromagnetic fields are confusing migrating robins, which also rely on the earth’s magnetic field for navigation. The study was prompted by observations made seven years ago when it was noted that European robins (Erithacus rubecula) stopping over at the university campus during their annual migration appeared confused. Over the next seven years, experiments were carried out by alternatively blocking and unblocking electromagnetic radiation and observing the behavior of the birds. It became clear that when the birds were exposed to the manmade electromagnetic forces they became disoriented. It is worth noting that birds are susceptible to far lower levels than those deemed safe for humans as set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) which mandates guidelines for all types of electrical devices, including power lines and mobile phones.

What this means for both animals and humans will no doubt remain a matter for debate as more research is carried out to understand the impact of modern technology on the natural world.

Drone Technology in Bird Conservation

May 27, 2014 by  
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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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