Dr. Julia Ponder, executive director of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, is traveling to the Galápagos Islands to support efforts to restore an endangered Giant Tortoise population. In this series of journal entries originally posted on The Raptor Center’s blog, Dr. Ponder will share her experiences over the course of two months. For background on her trip, click here to read or here to watch a video, and be sure to check back in to Health Talk to follow the project!
While the builders are continuing to make excellent progress on the temporary aviaries, we have been checking out the various hawk territories, baiting the hawks at several chosen sites and taking note of who comes in to feed and who doesn’t. Often the birds will just come and hang with us on the rocks. The juveniles and sub-adults are particularly curious, and quite willing to settle on a rock just inches away.
They actually presented a bit of a problem in one area in which we were very interested in getting the adults down to feed. The juveniles hang in a bit of a horde and move fairly freely around parts of the island. Nine of them came in and sat with us on the peak of the island, preventing us from baiting the adults. Interesting that the adults let the juveniles feed and didn’t challenge them. Recognizing this, we stopped putting out any small pieces of meat, at which point the youngsters just tried to go around us and steal directly from our bags. One even accidentally footed me as he tried to grab for some meat – a couple of good punctures in my finger as he briefly tried to carry it away. Eventually, the juveniles tired of waiting and left, at which time we were able to successfully get the adults to feed at the trapping site.
I am often asked about the long-term implications of feeding these hawks in preparation for trapping. The youngsters are beyond the age of imprinting. If this was an island that had tourism or other routine access from humans, I would be much more hesitant about habituating any of them to feed near humans. For now, this is our best option for getting them all safely into captivity. The good news is that once this job is finished, there will be rare humans around the island of Pinzón – it will go back to the giant tortoises and other native fauna. And the hawks will go back to their own ways and hunting for themselves.
More when I can – Juli