local drought conditions affecting birds of prey

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CONWAY, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) — A concerned viewer contacted our Western Mass News Getting Answers team, wondering why there seem to be fewer flying birds this summer.

We asked the question directly to a local wildlife specialist for answers.

The viewer asked:

“Where have all the seagulls gone? You couldn’t get into a store parking lot like Walmart plazas or Riverdale Road without them flying all over the place. Now there is nothing left to see…. Do you have a chance to look into this and find out why they left or if something happened to them? It just seems very strange.

We put the questions to Western Massachusetts bird expert Tom Ricardi, director of the Mass Bird of Prey Rehab Facility.

“Seagulls have had a problem over the years with this bird flu, but it’s mostly near the coast,” Ricardi told us. “Most of the things I see here with birds of prey are, I believe in my personal opinion, related to drought.”

He told us what else he’s seen lately.

“I pick up an awful lot of starving hawks and owls because I think mice and moles and things like that… dwindling populations because of the drought,” Ricardi said. “But this year I would say 70% of the birds I’ve rescued in the last two months are starving.”

He showed us two different barred owls, a popular species of owl in western Massachusetts. Both were hit by the drought, but only one survived.

“There’s nothing here. I mean, it’s mostly the sternum. There’s nothing. It’s just skin and bones, nothing for him now. I’ll share the same species from this to what they should look like,” Ricardi said. “It’s healthy here. They look like big heavy birds. He was a starving bird too, but he’s gotten to the point right now he’s doing great and he’ll be released soon.

We asked Ricardi if there was anything people could do to improve the situation.

“There’s really nothing you can do. A lot of people put up birdbaths and things like that that help birds that can’t find water in the immediate area,” he told us. “Raptors are birds of prey. They don’t drink a lot of water. They get most of their moisture from the food they eat, so like I said, the rodent population is so low that the birds get to a point where they can’t hunt. They don’t have the strength to hunt.

Ricardi said there was hope for next year with the birds and all we needed was some good rain.

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