www.flickr.com
items in Illinois Birder's Forum Photos More in Illinois Birder's Forum Photos pool

: Raptor Monday...Snowy Owl mice feeding bull*&!!*?##, Nachusa area eagles & hawks  ( 5211 )

Jeff Skrentny

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 1272
  • Common Ground Dove, IL #370
Had an enjoyable day with Greg Neise as we drove out to the Ogle County Snowy Owl Zoo & Idiot Iowa Photographers Emporium this morning, arriving about 1230pm early in the afternoon.  The bird was not hard to find, we saw two cars pulled off to the side of the road a half mile south of Hwy 72 on Brookville Road.  The pet Snowy Owl of the Davenport Iowa photographers/birders (not really sure they are really what could be referred to as birders) was along a fence line almost exactly in the middle of that mile square plat of land on the rise out at the fence line.  It was watching the four of us intently, as we soon discovered as soon as we got a scope on it.  It was very difficult to find with bins, it looked like a plastic bag stuck on the fence blowing in the wind.  But Greg's scope confirmed it was the Snowy.  Best we could manage was ID shots.  If we had wanted better shots all we had to do was stay for another hour or so, because...

Shortly after we arrived, a group of photographers from Davenport Iowa showed up, and proudly proclaimed that they were there to offer mice and were strategizing / arguing / debating who would walk into the field to flush the bird toward their self proclaimed "feeding station."  They said they had now fed the Snowy Owl over 50 mice and were there to offer up more.  They had plenty of photos to prove it, some were indeed amazing.  If you follow IBET, you can see in a recent post that offers links to some shots taken today by a photographer who stayed after we left.  Personally, I couldn't say a thing as I was shocked and horrified with the scene they were about to replicate from the last several days.  As many of you know, I don't keep my mouth shut well, and was about to explode when Greg said, "Great, let's go."  He knew I was about to pop.  

So sure, we saw the Snowy Owl together, it was our last expected Illinois owl species for our buddy list.  That was nice, it was buddy bird #313.  But the whole experience left me feeling sick.  It reminded me of a birding trip to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley World Birding Center a few years back.  Great birds, but horrible zoo like place to see birds.  Wonderful if you are a photographer, not so great if you wanted to see birds in a natural setting.

Is there any law about interfering with wildlife that can be enforced to stop this?  Would a call to DNR help in any way?

So after a day of driving, I am PISSED that my Snowy Owl viewing was ruined today and had to be cut short by my very good friend before I popped a gasket.  Thanks for your intervention Greg, saved us both from my sharp and easily provoked unkind tongue.    

Finally, a drive through Lowden and Nachusa allowed us to see 4 Bald Eagles at the river on Hwy 64 just north of Lowden Miller, and the Nachusa area gave us views of 4 RL, including one beautiful dark morph, 4 RTHs, I believe one Coop was near there (we had one other) and an adult male Northern Harrier.  It helped make for a less tense drive home for me.  
« : February 14, 2011, 08:09:27 PM Jeff Skrentny »
-jrrs
Jeff Skrentny
SkrentnySpeaks@me.com
Chicago, Cook County, IL

Greg Neise

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 4439
  • IBF Owner/Administrator
    • In Plain Sight Communication
I mean, really...what can you do? What should you do?

Is it really that different from an Anna's Hummingbird being kept in extreme cold by an artificially heated bottle of sugar water? Or a Streak-backed Oriole being fed plump, juicy waxworms all winter long in Colorado? How about throwing 75 loaves of bread into North Point Marina this Saturday to get the gulls in closer? None of those bother me so much...so why should this?

Where this one is a bit unique is that it involves an owl, and a Snowy at that (a species that always causes strong emotion from human-kind)...very near one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. This bird has become a bit of a celebrity.

You pick your battles. At the end of the day this is one Snowy Owl, that despite the flushing bit, is being treated rather well...I mean 50 mice is a good bit of chow. And mice is what it might eat anyway...it's not like they're feeding it anoles or something.

I feel less angry towards these photo-club people than most, I guess. Do I wish they would just leave? Yes. Or that the bird would push on? Yes.

But who am I (or any of us) to tell them that they should? They are enjoying nature on their terms, just as we birders do. Just as we couldn't believe that they would send someone half a mile out across the cornstubble to try to flush it closer (that, by the way, is when I came closest to saying something to them—but it appeared that no-one wanted to go—so I just let it drop)...

...they couldn't believe that we would be happy looking through our scope, ticking it off on our buddy list and simply leave. As they said, "...there have been some "birders" here who don't do anything...they just look at it and leave".

I didn't just look, though. I got a picture...
"Only the impossible always happens"
- - R. Buckminster Fuller

Steve Spitzer

  • Global Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 3227
Good posts guys.  I hope to see one someday. And might, if I come across one, as I won't go chasing into a zoo scene.

Steve
Steve Spitzer

creaturefeature

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 277
Jeff asks if there's any laws about what these folks from Iowa were doing. Jeff, I'm not a law enforcement person. But I'm reading in my IDNR regulations digest on page 11 that it is illegal to disturb any hawk, eagle or owl. I'm sure there's no law against feeding an owl, but these guys chasing this snowy to get pictures would probably fall under that catagory of disturbing. Wouldn't you agree? I enjoy watching owls more than an other bird. Currently I'm doing surveys in my area. One has to ponder what is considered to be "disturbing". Does walking up to a sleeping owl in a tree so we can take pictures mean we're disturbing it and therefore violating the law? I hope not. But if these guys were chasing this Snowy Owl around for fun and games I'd think it would.

Craig Taylor

I searched the IDNR website and could find nothing about baiting owls.  Or disturbing them.  Could you please share this bit of info, where it is located?  How others could find it and possibly share with conservation officers?

Regarding the name of this topic, what are Snowy Owl Mice and how exactly do they feed Bushtits? 

Oh wait, I just put my glasses on.


Jeff Skrentny

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 1272
  • Common Ground Dove, IL #370
Just wanted to update everyone, I just finished talking to Russ Engelke of US FWS, and baiting owls is unambiguously illegal in the US under the Migratory Bird Treaty.  It is considered a "taking," and each episode of baiting is punishable by with substantial fines running from the $100s to possibly $1000 of dollars.  I will have contact information for Office Engelke later, but if you see this behavior, just get license plate numbers.  Officer Engelke will give a warning first, but will indeed issue citations if this behavior persists.  Pass it on.
« : February 16, 2011, 07:08:03 PM Jeff Skrentny »
-jrrs
Jeff Skrentny
SkrentnySpeaks@me.com
Chicago, Cook County, IL

Greg Neise

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 4439
  • IBF Owner/Administrator
    • In Plain Sight Communication
Well that answers that. Thanks Jeff, for doing the leg work on this.
"Only the impossible always happens"
- - R. Buckminster Fuller

Nick Block

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 455
Hello all,

Sorry, this turned out to be a much longer post than I thought it would be...I guess I rambled...

Most of my thoughts on this whole matter have been pretty similar to Greg's first reply here (I think).  Basically, where do you draw the line among birds when feeding is okay v. not okay?  One might intuitively say that feeding cardinals is okay, but feeding owls is not.  But why?  Where in taxonomy do you draw the line that says it's okay to feed birds in this family but not in these families?  So as far as just plain feeding the Snowy Owl, I don't think birders can really object without being a tiny bit hypocritical (unless they object to all bird feeding).

However, the act of pursuing the bird for better action shots is a totally different matter.  From the USFWS website:
"The MBTA [Migratory Bird Treaty Act] made it illegal for people to "take" migratory birds, their eggs, feathers or nests.  Take is defined in the MBTA to include by any means or in any manner, any attempt at hunting, pursuing, wounding, killing, possessing or transporting any migratory bird, nest, egg, or part thereof." (My emphasis added.)

Obviously, and as pointed out by the USFWS officer Jeff spoke with, people pursuing the Snowy Owl are in violation of the law.  I'm not sure, however, if "baiting" the bird could really be construed as "pursuing."  What do you think?  To me, baiting just means feeding.  As soon as you leave the road to try to bring the bird to the bait is when you would get in trouble.

BUT (and it's a big one), again, many birders need to be careful about being hypocritical here.  I think many people's opinions on the Snowy Owl matter are being affected by the fact that it's a Snowy Owl.  They're absolutely amazing, gorgeous, super charismatic birds!  How can you not feel more protective of their well-being (this applies to any owl discussion, btw)!?

But what about the rest of the Class Aves?  How many birders that are objecting to the Snowy Owl scenario have been on a rail walk (e.g. Yellow Rails at Anahuac NWR)?  How many have walked through the grass at Northerly Island trying to flush sparrows (or SE Owls!)?  Or, as a better example b/c even more people bird there, the grasses at Montrose?  If you've been objecting strongly to the Snowy Owl scenario and have done any of these things, I urge you to take a deep breath and step back a little to examine the problem.  Obviously, I know there are many birders out there that object to all of these things and avoid birding in this fashion.  That's fantastic!  However, I would be willing to bet a lot that most birders that object to the Snowy Owl issue have pursued birds to get a better look at them; it's just that the other birds aren't as sexy and flashy as SNOWs.  Maybe I'm totally wrong in this, and if I am, then great!  But I don't think that I am, and I think many birders should perhaps try to look at the situation without their "Snowy Owl blinders" on.

I hope none of that came off as too soapbox-y!  I wasn't really trying to sound that way and I'm not at all criticizing people's birding strategies or anything.  I'd love to hear more thoughts on this possible bias we have about the scenario simply b/c the bird is a freakin' Snowy Owl.  :)

Cheers,
Nick Block, a guilty "bird flusher" on occasion

creaturefeature

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 277
Nick brings up some good points. Seems as if this country was founded on double standards. Still, Snowy Owls are totally awesome to me. Craig Taylor asked where I seen the regulation on disturbing owls mentioned in my earlier post reply. Craig, I actually read it in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2010-2011 page 11. It reads as follows: HAWKS, EAGLES, and OWLS PROTECTED. It is unlawful to take, attempt to take, molest or disturb any hawk, eagle or owl (including nests and eggs), at any time, except as provided by falconry regulations. Hope this answers it for you. All the best, Creature.

Jeff Skrentny

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 1272
  • Common Ground Dove, IL #370
Yeah,

As I wrote earlier today, I don't think it is difficult at all, common sense and acceptable practice seem to be important here. I think it is a bit amusing that non lawyers, to prove a point, want to make it black and white with no gray. There is gray, in all of our lives, and in everything we do. In the gray is where much of the joy of the world is for me. But also, hawks, owls and eagles are viewed differently than common yard bird passerines found at your feeders, rightly or wrongly, as I understand it, in the law.

I also wrote somewhere else today, that we should pile it on and get right on the Bald Eagle chumming on the Mississippi, and bring these abuses to an end.

But now anywhere I go using my iPod, walking to flush sparrows or even pishing I am going to be called a hypocrite... Can't ever win trying to do the right thing, but I can live with myself.
« : February 16, 2011, 05:51:29 PM Jeff Skrentny »
-jrrs
Jeff Skrentny
SkrentnySpeaks@me.com
Chicago, Cook County, IL

kwysocki

  • Fledgeling
  • *
  • : 4
Well that answers that. Thanks Jeff, for doing the leg work on this.

Unfortunately, while I'm sure this officer's intentions were good, the statement that baiting owls is unambiguously illegal under the MBTA is factually and legally incorrect.  

I'm not in favor of any of the behavior Jeff and others have seen, but the MBTA is very specific about the situations under which baiting is illegal, and they only involve takings or attempted takings.  Here is the exact text from the statute:

***

b) It shall be unlawful for any person to—
(1) take any migratory game bird by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, if the person knows or reasonably should know that the area is a baited area; or
(2) place or direct the placement of bait on or adjacent to an area for the purpose of causing, inducing, or allowing any person to take or attempt to take any migratory game bird by the aid of baiting on or over the baited area.

***

The law places the focus on not whether baiting has occurred, but on whether the baiting was intended to aid in the taking of any bird.  The law was written this way purposefully, and actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it; to make baiting itself illegal without tying it to a taking or attempted taking would make every bird feeder, chummer, etc. guilty of a federal crime.

Now, the question of whether the behavior exhibited here is considered a taking or not is a much closer question; based on the cases interpreting the MBTA I think probably not, but that's a 60/40 proposition at best.

Again, I don't agree with the behavior we're discussing, but I think education is the answer.  If people start getting arrested the ultimate result will be a lot of defense attorneys challenging the MBTA and that in the end has a substantial likelihood of weakening the statute, which is the best legal protection we have on a federal level for birds not covered by the ESA or some specific statute like the Bald Eagle Act.

« : February 16, 2011, 08:08:23 PM kwysocki »

Craig Taylor

Thanks Ken and Creaturefeature (Do you have a name?)

Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2010-2011 page 11. It reads as follows: HAWKS, EAGLES, and OWLS PROTECTED. It is unlawful to take, attempt to take, molest or disturb any hawk, eagle or owl (including nests and eggs), at any time, except as provided by falconry regulations.

Unfortunately, a mouser could simply say he was feeding the owl.  I doubt you will have conservation officers making arrests because the case would have little chance of successful prosecution.

BUT..........

THANK YOU CREATUREFEATURE!!!

The document you reference, which can be found at:

http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/Documents/HuntTrapDigest.pdf

...ALSO STATES:

Releasing Wildlife and Possessing Live Wildlife

It is unlawful to:

release from captivity any wildlife EXCEPT as authorized by the Department or as authorized by permits for a field trial, dog training area, game breeding and hunting preserve area, or wild game and bird breeder permits.

carry into this state alive or possess alive any species of wildlife taken outside of this
state without first obtaining permission to do so from the Director, EXCEPT licensed
game breeders, as permitted by the Illinois Wildlife Code.


They couldn't convict Al Capone on bootlegging, gambling, murder charges.  So they took a different approach and got him on tax evasion.

If baiting charges won't work, perhaps the releasing of unauthorized mammals will.  
« : February 17, 2011, 12:30:56 AM Craig Taylor »

Nick Block

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 455
Craig's totally got it right, I think!  If you want to stop the activity, take the different path.  I hadn't thought of that before, but it seems obvious now that releasing animals like this is completely illegal.  Nice!  :)

Jeff, I hope you don't think I was calling you a hypocrite!  I wasn't trying to say that.  If I did, then I'd be calling myself one, too!  Although to be honest, I think I am a little.  I mean, I think this Snowy Owl situation is total BS and those people releasing mice and whatnot are being completely unethical.  Yet I've flushed birds to get better looks countless times.  Granted, I stop flushing them as soon as I've IDed them, unlike this group of photogs, which seem hellbent on returning and doing this over and over.  But I suppose that's just me making myself feel better.  :-\  I also have used playback countless times, and I pish all the freakin' time.

Anyway...I don't know where I'm going with this.  I completely agree that common sense plays a big role in how I bird and when I "pursue" birds.  But as I understand it, if I wanted to use a MBTA argument to stop the Snowy Owl behavior, then I would have to adher to such an argument when I bird elsewhere (or be a little hypocritical, which I am certainly guilty of being on occasion, although I try hard not to be).  I guess that's all I was trying to say.

Cheers,
Nick

P.S. Online forums suck for discussing this stuff, IMHO.  Over beers is such a better way.  :)

creaturefeature

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • : 277
Craig, I fully agree with you. It would not be successfully prosecuted. I cannot understand what the officer meant when he said this activity is considered an attempt to "take" the Snowy Owl (?) No one means to kill it! My point was that this might fall under the catagory of disturbing or harrassing. The folks from Iowa said to Jeff that they intended to chase the bird so they could get it closer. Kwysocki brings up some great points with his post of baiting laws. And these laws don't even apply to Owls. Please note it refers to migratory "game" birds. This is also found in the DNR digest.  Owls are not game birds as we all are aware, but the baiting law is intended for ducks, geese, ect. during or just before hunting season. So I'm glad to see Kwysocki posts this because it furthers my thought that there is no law about feeding Owls specifically. Unless it's written somewhere else in the statutes?  I also agree that releasing live mice is a violation. One of my Owl books has a chapter on feeding. But they were placing dead mice on a platform. Different situation.

kwysocki

  • Fledgeling
  • *
  • : 4
And these laws don't even apply to Owls. Please note it refers to migratory "game" birds.

This is a good point, and another reason why the baiting section of the MBTA would be a tough sell in this case.

But I do want to point out that the MBTA generally does protect all migratory birds (including owls), so you could still have the same conversation about whether this activity contsitutes a taking, harassment, pursuing, etc.

Really the easiest legal way to stop this would be to have the landowner post "No Trespassing" signs (is there such a thing as a "No Mousing" sign???) and have the local Sheriff enforce it.  Or just point out the traffic dangers to the local Sheriff and have him roust everyone, but that's kind of throwing out the baby with the bath water, I guess.

 

Join the ABA



ABA Bird of the Year

Help the Illinois Birders' Forum remain one of the best birding forums on the net. A small donation of any amount goes a long way.





Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites

Hunting Optics from Eagle Optics affiliate_link