Forest falcon listed as endangered, but falconer disagrees |

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) – On Jacks Mountain, where the trees were showing golden and orange highlights, raptors took flight on a fall afternoon, hitchhiking on warm updrafts all the way up the ridge.

Mike Dupuy, a master in the sport of falconry, can see them, even for miles, from his lawn. He knows them by their calls, their color, even the shape of their tails. Often it is a fierce prying Cooper’s Hawk or the ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk, a sturdy member of the SUV-like raptor family. But the rare bronze-gray hawk with reddish eyes perched on Dupuy’s arm – one of the wood pigeons – is his favorite, a fighter plane of a bird capable of throwing from his hand and turning a pigeon or chipmunk into a blur. of feathers or fur in a second or two.

Few people see one.

“It’s a wild bird,” he said. “This is from a nest in Pennsylvania.”

A reclusive forest dweller, the Northern Goshawk was moved from a list of threatened to endangered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission last month. This step will protect the species from human activities, such as logging, and allow researchers to study potential threats, including West Nile virus, logging, natural gas extraction and predation by carnivores. The inscription will also likely affect falconry, the ancient art of hunting with captive raptors.

Dupuy, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, caught the male Northern Goshawk when he was a chick in 2013 and has been raising him ever since. He is one of the many hawks, hawks and owls he keeps at home. Now that the species is officially endangered in Pennsylvania, it’s unclear whether one of the state’s more than 200 licensed falconers like Dupuy would be allowed to take one to breed and fly. Dupuy, a self-proclaimed rebel from the falconry world, was a dissenting voice on the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project subcommittee that studied the number of bears and nesting sites in the state for several years before listing.

“I come from a long line of troublemakers,” he told his home last month.

While the state and many researchers on the subcommittee believe the number of arbors has been declining steadily for two decades, Dupuy believes the study was insufficient, too small for such a secretive bird. He believes that inclusion on the list of endangered species was inevitable even before studies were carried out. Dupuy said the subcommittee had only researched a small fraction of Pennsylvania’s vast forests and had not used techniques that have been successful in assessing numbers in the past, such as polling turkey hunters who often encounter nests.

“All of these people have an interest in putting a wood pigeon in danger,” he said. “They are biased against falconers, but there is no softer, more zen form of hunting.”

Dupuy’s income is centered around birds and falconry and he believes this irritates bird watchers, environmentalists and wildlife officials. He owns Mike Dupuy Hawk Food, which sells prepared foods, pens, perches and other falconry equipment. In 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service charged Dupuy with violating Migratory Birds Treaty law after requesting identification tapes from the Pennsylvania Game Commission for three goshawks he had captured. Authorities believed Dupuy captured the birds for breeding purposes, which he said he was legally allowed to do. Dupuy fought the charges and a federal judge found him not guilty after a day-long trial.

“They didn’t have to investigate me, I self-declared these birds,” he said. “I paid money to get a permit to do it. “

Margaret Brittingham, a wildlife professor at Penn State who collects data on northern goshawks, said the endangered species list was not an attack on falconers. She noted that the Northern Goshawk was also on endangered lists in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia and that the listings, ideally, are not meant to be permanent.

“It’s not a forever list,” she said. “We can progress. The peregrine falcon, bald eagle and osprey have been written off.

Brittingham said there has always been a consensus about the secretive nature of the Northern Goshawk, but she also believes the decline in breeding pairs is real.

“If it is a mistake, it will correct itself,” she said.

Sean Murphy, an ornithologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the listing will allow the state to allocate resources and protections to the Northern Goshawk. For example, if a nest with active reproduction is discovered, buffers can be put in place against logging or hydraulic fracturing activities.

“Now we are focusing on the recovery of the bird,” he said.

In Maryland to the south, there are so few around the north that Dave Brinker, an ecologist in the state’s Department of Natural Resources, often spends time searching for the bird in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

“For there to be a healthy population in Maryland, there has to be a healthy population in Pennsylvania,” Brinker said.

The latest population estimate, taken in the 1990s, put the number of Pennsylvania’s bears at around 200 breeding pairs, Brinker said. But the state’s population has declined steadily since about 2000, and Murphy, along with the Game Commission, said there was no population estimate today.

Brinker blames most of the blame on West Nile virus, which is transmitted to surrounding people by infected mosquitoes and other birds they eat, such as crows and ruffed grouse. Other factors are also at play, Brinker said, which highlight the delicate balance of wildlife management. The fisherman, a large carnivorous member of the weasel family, was once close to extinction in Pennsylvania, but conservation efforts have reduced their numbers. Adept climbers, fishermen often prey on the nests of Northern Goshawks, Brinker said.

“I am a predator biologist, I love fishermen. They’re cool and I’m glad they’ve been restored, ”said Brinker. “That being said, as professional biologists we need to make sure that the management of one species does not endanger another.

Brinker considers Dupuy a friend and says they just don’t agree on the bird’s abundance in Pennsylvania.

“He’s got a lot of great ideas because he’s a small businessman and he doesn’t work in government, and it’s a different environment,” Brinker said. “When you are faced with conservation issues, you do the best you can with what you have. “

Dupuy started his own nonprofit, the Goshawk Society, fearing that “government and academic institutions” would be the sole arbiter of raptor research, giving little credit to falconers and hunters who pass thousands of birds. hours in the woods. On his website, Dupuy seeks public sightings and offers potential rewards to spring turkey hunters who may have seen or been “attacked” by a wood pigeon. Birds will often strafe intruders who get too close to their nests.

The Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust, a statewide group that holds annual meetings and advocates for hunting with birds, also feared that the covert nature of the Northern Goshawk, associated with the deep forests they call their home, make the search difficult, and paint an incomplete picture.

“The PFHT was involved in the research project from the beginning and in our opinion the overall results of the research carried out did not fully encompass the population of the species as a whole,” said Patrick Miller, Eastern Director of the trust.

Miller also believes the subcommittee has done the best possible research, given its resources, but a full investigation of the goshawks requires more staff and more time. Although few of the state’s 200 falconers fly goshawks, Miller said they are the preeminent bird in the sport, the ultimate athlete. He said it is still not clear whether the state will allow falconers to fly the goshawks they have already captured given their new endangered status.

The Game Commission and conservation groups such as Hawk Mountain, Miller noted, seek sightings and nesting sites from the public and recommend that all reports be sent to them.

Dupuy said many falconers would simply buy goshawks from breeders if they are no longer allowed to take them from nests. They can cost up to $ 2,000, he said.

Locally, he searched for them on Jacks Mountain with little luck, chartering a plane to search for nests and avoiding poisonous snakes on the ground. He has seen a few juveniles there and at least one adult over the years.

That day, the only goshawk was the one that Dupuy owned.

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