On June 27, near Glen Arbor, Michigan, a merlin that was captured will be fitted with a leg band and a tracking device. The expedition will advance understanding of a species that is only beginning to recover from a severe decline brought on by pesticides and assist wildlife managers in figuring out how to stop merlins from biting endangered piping plovers. hide caption – John Flesher
switch to caption Image by John Flesher/AP On June 27, near Glen Arbor, Michigan, a merlin that was captured will be fitted with a leg band and a tracking device. The expedition will advance understanding of a species that is only beginning to recover from a severe decline brought on by pesticides and assist wildlife managers in figuring out how to stop merlins from biting endangered piping plovers.
J. Flesher / AP Michigan’s GLEN ARBOR Two researchers lured a merlin into a net and then put a backpack tracking device to it in a woodland near Lake Michigan. The goal is to stop the predatory species from consuming the nearby nesting piping plovers, a critically endangered shorebird.
Thanks to restrictions on pesticides like DDT, merlins have recovered after decades of decline. They benefit from it, but the plovers in the Great Lakes region, where only 65 to 70 pairs are left, does not. According to Nathan Cooper, a research ecologist of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the little falcons “represent a huge threat to their recovery.”
The circumstances are ironic. Thanks to restoration efforts, a disturbed species recovers, only to prey on or outcompete other threatened species for food and habitat, worsening the situation for others. The challenge for wildlife experts who want them all to thrive in balanced, healthy surroundings is that similar situations have appeared elsewhere.
For instance, the resurgence of the iconic bald eagle has put pressure on uncommon water species. Threatened California least terns and Western snowy plovers that seek sanctuary at naval sites close to San Diego are under risk from resurgent peregrine falcons. Additionally, attacks by protected white sharks off the coast of California prevent imperiled sea otters from recovering.
Hundreds of gray seals have taken up residence on several beaches in Massachusetts after being on the verge of extinction in New England’s waters. The reemergence of the 800-pound beast has sparked concerns over fragile fish stocks.
According to experts, such unforeseen results don’t always point to problems with the U.S. Endangered Species Act or conservation initiatives. Instead, they highlight the richness of nature and the necessity of preserving biological ecosystems rather than just specific species.
Stuart Pimm, an expert on extinction at Duke University, stated that there are times when conflicts between species that we’re attempting to protect arise. “But is it a significant concern for conservation? No.”
Since some creatures are more adaptable than others to changes in the environment, species recoveries can result in trade-offs, according to Bruce Stein, chief scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.
According to Stein, “a lot of ecosystems where these things are happening are already a little out of whack because we’ve affected them in some manner.” “The effects of climate change will have victors and losers. The losers frequently have specialized habitat needs, confined ecological niches, and are already in decline.”
CONVINCING A MERLIN A great horned owl, the merlin’s natural nemesis, assisted Smithsonian interns Tim Baerwald and Zachary Bordner in capturing the bird at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Although it was dead, this bird was equipped with remote controls that allowed it to hoot and flap its wings.
While soaring overhead, the merlin called out in distress with high-pitched, rapid-fire sounds. It plunged into a net held in place by steel rods. The brownish-speckled female was gently untangled by the scientists, who then fastened the tracker and a leg band.
Before Bordner released the merlin, which zipped back to its nesting tree, Baerwald stated, “As long as it’s fitted correctly, she’ll have a long and happy life.”
Since the DDT ban in 1972, the number of Merlins in the area has increased. According to Cooper of the Smithsonian, they are suspected of murdering at least 57 adult piping plovers in the last 10 to 15 years.
The ring-necked plovers with sandy backs nibble on eggs and tiny marine life as they scamper down beaches. They are one of the three still-existing species in North America, and habitat loss and predation are the main causes of their decline.
Despite shooting several merlins, authorities are searching for non-lethal solutions. According to Vince Cavalieri, a biologist with the national lakeshore, information from the transmitter backpacks might assist evaluate whether it would be worthwhile to try to capture and relocate the animals.
On June 27 in Glen Arbor, Michigan, Zachary Bordner fastens a tracking device on a merlin that Tim Baerwald, a fellow Smithsonian intern, had trapped near Lake Michigan and was holding. hide caption – John Flesher
switch to caption Image by John Flesher/AP On June 27 in Glen Arbor, Michigan, Zachary Bordner fastens a tracking device on a merlin that Tim Baerwald, a fellow Smithsonian intern, had trapped near Lake Michigan and was holding.
J. Flesher / AP THREATEN RARE BIRDS, EAGLES The bald eagle’s recovery, America’s national bird, is an accomplishment. The only breeding population of great cormorants in the United States, however, is threatened by the large raptor in one area of coastal Maine.
The adult cormorants will flush and leave their nests when eagles disturb them, according to Don Lyons, a conservation biologist at the National Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute.
The cormorant eggs and chicks are then devoured by gulls, ravens, and crows. An entire colony could fail if this happens repeatedly, according to Lyons.
To deter eagles, his team arranges for volunteers to set up tents close to cormorant colonies.
Attacking peregrine falcons, which like eagles recovered following the prohibition on DDT, are no match for them in Southern California’s coastal areas for least terns and snowy plovers. Such pesticides induce huge birds to generate eggs with weak shells, which females shatter when attempting to incubate them. These eggs are then transmitted up food chains.
By engaging a falconer to capture troublesome peregrines, keeping them in a holding facility over the winter, or releasing them in Northern California, the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Alliance aims to safeguard the endangered species. Nacho Vilchis, a conservation scientist, explained that some animals find new habitats while others return to old ones.
“We may request authorization for lethal removal if there is a serious problem bird that keeps coming back, but that’s only occasionally done,” Vilchis added.
The gray seal population in New England was decimated by hunting and bounty. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 saved them, and now there are tens of thousands left.
Following decades of overfishing, regulators are working to rehabilitate fishing groups contend the seals could threaten cod stocks .
According to board member Peter Krogh, the Fairhaven, Massachusetts-based Coastal Ecosystem Alliance seeks to modify the protection law to permit hunting and halt the increase of the seal population.
According to Kristina Cammen, a marine mammal scientist at the University of Maine, gray seals are an example where recovery has both been cause for joy and cause for alarm. She claims that in comparison to people, they provide less of a threat to fish stocks.
BEDEVIL FISHERS SEALS AND CORMORANTS There are also instances where reviving animals may be more of a nuisance to people than a threat to other wildlife, similar to the conflict over seals and cod.
Fish farmers in the South, anglers in the Great Lakes region, and residents of the Pacific Northwest have long grumbled about the double-crested cormorant, a diving bird with dark feathers that gobbles up valuable species like catfish, perch, and salmon.
Since the DDT ban, cormorants have thrived, and agencies have attempted to reduce them in some areas by nest destruction, egg oiling, and even shooting. However, environmentalists have filed lawsuits, claiming that the birds are being used as a fall guy for activities that endanger fish.
ANIMALS The Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Dave Fielder, a fisheries research biologist, stated that they “need to provide a location for them because they are a part of our avian community and our ecosystems.” However, it becomes an issue when their population is so large that it threatens to obliterate the recreational fishery.
The number of wild turkeys had decreased to tens of thousands by the 1930s, disappearing from many states, from the millions that formerly roamed North America before European settlement. They are now hunted in 49 states and are so prevalent in New England that they frequently result in traffic jams.
According to some hunters, ruffed grouse populations are declining in some areas of their distribution, such as the Upper Midwest, and are being outcompeted by ravenous turkeys. However, climate change and habitat loss are mentioned by scientists.
According to Mark Hatfield, national director of conservation services, the National Wild Turkey Federation is assisting in the movement of turkeys from states with a surplus, like North Carolina, Maine, and West Virginia, to Texas and other places that might use more.
“If you introduce hunting localized wild turkeys , you immediately lessen the issue with too many turkeys,” Hatfield said.
NATURE IN ACTION Conflicts between struggling species and those that are recovering don’t automatically indicate a problem, according to scientists. It might represent a return to the state of affairs before people interfered.
John Fitzpatrick, emeritus director of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology, said: “When a population goes back to where it’s having the same interactions with other organisms as before it dropped down, that’s nature at work.”
According to Lyons of the Audubon Society, the bald eagle is “testing our conventional assumptions about what’s normal” for prey species like common murres on the West Coast and great cormorants in New England, which may have been less numerous before eagle populations declined.
The return of the eagle “complicates the conservation of several other species,” according to Lyons. However, their recovery is such a fantastic result; therefore, this is a positive complication.
According to Stein of the wildlife federation, predator-prey relationships are complicated, and intervention can be challenging. He asserted that rather than “shifting things around willy-nilly,” it is frequently best to concentrate on maintaining habitat and reuniting dispersed landscapes to encourage natural migration.
But merlin expert and environmental scientist Ian Warkentin suggested there may be less-harsh ways to assist endangered creatures. Merlins may be chased away from sites where plover nests are found by larger falcons, such as peregrines, which are occasionally used to chase birds out of airports.
Warkentin, a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell Campus, said: “I fall on the side of the fence that says we should do anything we can… to aid the recovery of species for which we’ve caused such anguish.”