APEX Hour at SUU

9/30/21: HawkWatch International!

Episode Summary

Melissa Halvorsen and Iza Schwartz from HawkWatch International join host Lynn Vartan owls, falcons, vultures and other raptors as well as the organization and mission of HawkWatch International. They discuss the threats to birds today and the status of bird and the way they are indicators for human health and ecology.

Episode Notes

A.P.E.X. Website

Episode Transcription


Hey everyone, this is Lynn Vartan and you are listening to the apex our on k SUU Thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit southern Utah University from all over, learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to, and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find us here every Thursday at 3pm or on the web @suu.edu slash apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on Thunder 91.1.



All right, well, welcome in everyone. It is Thursday it is 3pm. And that means it is time for the apex hour. This is Lynn Vartan. And it's fall here at Suu, you're listening to KSU Thunder 91.1. And today we had such a cool Apex event. I think it's kind of been a favorite of everyone for several reasons. And that is we saw live birds Raptors, and we saw an owl and a peregrine falcon. And they were all family members from hawkwatch International. So I have two awesome members of hawkwatch International here with me in the studio today. And we're going to start out with some introductions about who you guys are and what you do for hawkwatch. So who wants to go first? Melissa do you want to go first?



Yeah, of course. So my name is Melissa Halverson. And I'm the Education and Outreach Director at hawkwatch. International. And I know people came for the birds, it's okay, we're used to it. Like, I don't worry about what's on my shirt or whatever, cuz they're not looking at me, they're looking at the bird. So



you probably get that all the time. So yeah, I don't know, people were kind of entranced by your speaking today. Because you're, you really told the story. I mean, you started out and I want to get into this, of course, but you started out talking about about DDT and about all the different things that affected birds and how they relate to our ecosystem and our bodies and things that affect us. So you were very compelling. 



well, thank you. And just to clarify, it was DDT. Oh, sorry, it is safe, and you can use it and should so you don't get Lyme disease and other right bad insect stuff. Yeah. Well, but that really is actually a good tie into what hawkwatch does, because our mission at hawkwatch is that we conserve the environment through education, long term monitoring and scientific research on Raptors as indicators of ecosystem health. So DDT was a chemical pesticide for those who weren't at the at the event. And it really ended up impacting Raptors in a big way, as it was concentrated in their bodies as it was sprayed in the environment. The Raptors started laying eggs that had thinner shells. And so when they incubate the eggs, eggs would crack, and the babies wouldn't survive. So we realized that this pesticide was problematic. And it wasn't only problematic for Raptors down the road, we also realized it causes reproductive health issues in humans as well, and is a potential carcinogen and has a lot of other ill effects and large amounts. And so when we talk about why do we study Raptors at hawkwatch, I like to use the DDT story because Raptors are really great indicator species, they are an animal that is really sensitive to their environment. And because they're at the top of the food chain, they require a really stable ecosystem underneath them, everything has to be working properly in order for them to reproduce. So when we see a problem in an ecosystem, a lot of times it will show up and things like Raptors or other predators at the top of the food chain first. So when we see their populations change, and they are struggling, then we know we need to investigate deeper into that ecosystem. So yeah, I mean, we have been doing this at hawkwatch for 35 years.



Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. And so how did how hawkwatch get started as an organization?



Yeah. So hawkwatch began with a man named Steve Hoffman, and he actually was from back east. He worked, I believe in Pennsylvania at Hawk mountain for a while, but he got his master's degree at Utah, University of Utah. Now I'm wrong Utah State University. Oh, that's the right one. So he came out there to get his master's degree. And while he was off hiking around, at the time, most scientists believe that Raptors didn't really migrate in the West, they just kind of moved around the region. And so there was a long history of migration monitoring on the East Coast, but no one had really done it in the western half of the country. And because there were a lot of rappers out here, and they're easy to see in the desert, you know, right. There was kind of this assumption that they just kind of hung out and he saw evidence to the contrary. And so he actually began getting volunteers to climb up these mountain peaks in the fall. Across the Intermountain West and start basically recording data. And so because of that we have 35 years of migration data. And that's really important baseline. It's not sometimes it doesn't seem very exciting to think about, I'm going to sit on a mountain and count every Raptor I see all day long for three months at a time, right, which is essentially what our migration crews do. Yeah. But that information over that long period of time helps us to establish trends. Yeah, so we can see things like for example, the American Kestrel, which is our smallest Falcon in North America has experienced population declines over the years. And not only do we have data that shows that, but we can compare it to other sites on the eastern half of the country, that also have data that shows that So overall, we know there's something happening with kestrels. And then we can use that information to tailor the research that we're doing to specific species that need our help. And so now we have a project based around American kestrels, where we have volunteers, it's actually community science project that help us monitor Kestrel boxes all over the place. And we band to the babies when they're old enough and we you know, measure them and weigh them and get all this information. And basically, we're studying how they react across an urban gradient. So everything from a farmland to like a wilderness area to people's backyards and golf courses and city parks and all right, even urban environments. kestrels are have been known to use those places. So we're trying to see what's what's the deal. Why are these kestrels struggling? And that's still research in progress. So we don't have a definitive answer yet.



Oh, my gosh, so many questions. Okay. So, but first, I want to make sure that he gets a chance to introduce yourself and kind of tell us what you do. And I know that you've participated in as you got into hawkwatch with a lot of these migration observations and work. So tell us about who you are and what you do for hawkwatch?



Yeah, absolutely. My name is Isa. It's like Lisa without the L. And I'm an educator at hawkwatch. I first started at hawkwatch in 2017, as a migration crew member at the Bonny Butte site, which is an oregan. It's really beautiful. It's across from hood mountain. And it's absolutely breathtaking. I think it's one of the prettiest sites, it's hard to pick that. And I also did a little bit of Eagle mess searching for hawkwatch. And then I did another migration season in the Montana mountain. So then I moved into the education department. And I've been an educator since so I have definitely done the full season of sitting on the mountain and counting rafters as they fly by. And it's both incredible and very exhausting. I mean, you're out in the elements, nine hours or more a day. 



And yeah, I want to hear more about that. So what is that kind of signing up for a migration team? Like you sign up for a certain period of time? And then do you choose the location is location choose for you? What gear do you need? What's a day in the life like have that?



Yeah, I think in general, like sometimes you get to choose your site. And sometimes there's maybe like a handful of sites that you can choose from. Because sometimes certain sites have returning crews or certain returning members, just depends. When I first worked my first migration season at Bonney Butte, I had no idea what to expect and hasn't really entirely sure what to you know, what was going to be like kind of fresh out of college. But I took my tiny little Mazda three hatchback and drove it up a very rugged road, had a vehicle with much higher clearance on it. And it was there was a crew, five of us and we pitched our tents up in the forest up there. And we had a nice little vault toilet that the Forest Service maintains. And we had a beautiful little observation site where we would do our counting. So we had we not all sites have an officer or a blind site where we are like banding Raptors. But all of our migration sites have an observation right? where you're like, you know, counting Raptors as they're migrating south. But Bonnie has both a blind and the OB sight so as my first time ever like holding a bird in hand and learning how to kind of take data off of a bird and hand over like measuring wing cord or a keel or measuring you know, Bill length Sears stuff like that. And it was the first time I really honed in my observation skills for it being a raptor in flight which is just it's very different than being a raptor or a bird that is perched you know you're really looking for overall flight behavior or the shape of the bird. So it's it's really a cool way to hone in on your ID skills and just kind of become you know more of an expert or experienced and just



I mean, when you first start, are you comparing two pictures? Like are you kind of like, okay, yeah, like this and you know, is that work?



They recommend a book called raptures at a distance, I think is what it's



called. Oh, wow. Like specifically at a distance cool.



Yeah, so they have tons and tons of photos of Raptors that are flying by so you can see the differences and color morphs. Or even like the differences in plumage for like, different species or ages, right? Because hatch, your birds are going to look different than adult birds. Even with eagles, you have different kind of subsets of plumage as they aged from your one to five or older. And then in the back of this book, are just pages of silhouettes, because oftentimes when Raptors are flying in the sky, they're backlit. And so you don't get any color. Sometimes they just, you know, look like a silhouette flying through the sky. So you're really depending on that overall kind of shape or like a shell of a bird. 



I never heard of that behavior. Oh, that's so cool. Oh, my gosh. So did it come easy to you? Or did you feel like you needed a good like, several months?



I think certain birds are easier than others probably. I think the hardest learning curve is really differentiating between elusive species like acceptors like, Cooper's Hawks. And Sharpton talks are really hard to differentiate for anyone, even experts, they've done studies where, you know, they have really, really qualified, you know, biologists try to ID a flying Cooper talk or Sharpton talk. And, you know, they don't always get it right either. So there's, they look really similar male Cooper's hawks and female Sharpton talks, just the size and plumage like they have almost the exact same.



Even in a close up picture, it can be hard to tell Oh, wow, really, really close. Looking. Right?



And so how long are you out on a shift? I mean, do you take a shift and you look at the sky for four hours, I mean, what's it like in action,



it's it is full on. So you get one day off a week. And the remainder of that week, you're up on the mountain, and you typically are counting from nine to five. So you're counting that whole day. So and you're up there, when you're doing observation, you're up there typically with you know, to other counters, and you have kind of a systematic way of combing the sky, right, where you're, you're kind of starting towards the southern side of the sky and moving northward. Yeah, to make sure that you're trying to kind of scan we call it systematically, right, and you kind of were looking up and down and we have this kind of clockwork of like one o'clock, two o'clock type thing where you're you break up the sky in certain increments that are numbered, and we even have like little kind of landscape photos where we are able to name maybe distant ridges or, or like land features. So if someone's having trouble identifying a bird that's maybe flying over a really distant Ridge, and you can say, you know, one glass full over the knob and the knob might be this like mountain feature and one glassful means if you take your binoculars and you pointed out the knob, then you kind of move your right ocular upwards. One glassful. So one full kind of, you know, lens, yeah, upward.



Oh my gosh, I love hearing about all the lingo and everything. That's so cool. Well, thank you for sharing that. And, Melissa, how did you get involved with hawkwatch? I mean, I know we saw pictures of maybe some treasured family time that led to your love for birds.



Yeah, so I grew up, my dad was a biologist for the Utah State division of wildlife resources. And so when I was a kid, there was nothing better for me than getting to be out with my dad in the field. And I really think that that shaped a lot of my experience with science, because what I did in the classroom didn't look like that or feel like that. But I understood what was being taught because I had practical application and experience from doing the stuff with my dad. And that's a whole other thing we can talk about later of how science education is changing. Yeah, to be more reflective of that. But I had this really great experience and just grew up really loving nature and animals and the outdoors. And ecology was something I was really passionate about. But at the time I went to college in the dinosaur ages, there was no such thing as an environmental education degree or an informal education degree. It just wasn't something that people considered a career so I actually ended up pursuing a degree in English because my second great love is stories, storytelling, and, you know, I think we learned so much as a species by hearing each other's stories. So while I was in college, I discovered a program called the student Conservation Association that does these internships. And so I applied for that. And I ended up in Virginia at the Yorktown National Historic Park, a colonial National Historic Park. So it's a national park. And I worked there as an intern for a couple months, and then they hired me on to continue as a seasonal park ranger. And I found this magical world where you taught about ecology using stories. You know, that's what park rangers do, right? When you go to a park ranger program, when you have a good Park Ranger, they tell you these stories about the land and the people and the animals and everything. And, and it's inspiring, right? Like, who hasn't, I'm sure a lot of people have had that experience of like, being in a place and getting that place based experience with a really skilled facilitator, it can be life changing. Yeah. And, and that's kind of what happened for me is I realized, this is what I love, and it's what I want to do. And so I just kept pursuing ways to do that. And so I was in the Park Service for several years. And then, you know, as my life changed, I just was always looking for a job that use that skill. So I worked in nature centers, and Zoos and Aquariums, and, you know, any place where I could connect people to nature. And so I was working in the field, and I saw that hawkwatch had this position open. So about two years ago, now, I applied and, and here I am, and I just, I really, I really love it, because hawkwatch in some ways, is really the perfect blend, because unlike a place like a zoo, or an aquarium that has to sell tickets, we are purely a nonprofit research and education type program, right? Like, we are in the purest sense of the word, a scientific organization, we're doing science and then I get to take this real science that's happening now in real time and bring it to people and you know, I feel like my job really is to kind of be the intermediary between this kind of dense scientific content and like this public audience and I just feel like telling stories is the perfect tool for that and so you know, I just I love what I do and and nowadays you can go get a master's degree in environmental education and you know, it's recognized as a career now. Yeah. Which really makes me happy because I think if you think about some of the best science learning experiences you've ever had in your life, I think it's a lot of times happening in a national park or a state park right in a museum right? Or in a you know, a zoo, those kinds of places really have a powerful impact on people so



I love it all right. Well thank you for telling both of your stories and I think it's time for a song. Well you know, those of you who listen to the show know that I sometimes try to pick songs that have something to do with the topic in some way shape or form and the first song I have for you is called Falcons. So I thought that might be you know, a little bit related and it's by Amanda Bergman. So check it out. You're listening to KSU Thunder 91.15.



Music Break 



All right, well, welcome back. That song was Falcons by Amanda Bergman. And the reason we played Falcons is because I have in the studio with me hawkwatch International. And so Isa and Melissa here are telling us all about that organization. And we're talking about Raptors, and all kinds of things related to those amazing birds, which we got to meet to have today. And I'd love to get into that at some point, too. But one of the things I'd love to talk about now is, you know, hawkwatch International is, as you said, a nonprofit that is education and research oriented. But within that you have lots of different projects. And I love to hear about some of those projects, what they are, you know, how they relate to the ecological landscape and all those things. So what are some of the projects that hawkwatch engages in?



Well, the biggest and longest running one, of course, is migration that we've talked about already, right? That's, that's kind of how we started. And then our science projects kind of fall into three categories. So we have what we call community science and long term monitoring. So that's migration. And then a lot of our projects that rely on volunteers and community members to help us collect data and do the things that we need to do. So we have some projects there that work with kestrels, and forest owls. So we study the five smallest species of forest owls, which are all incredibly adorable. project was started by



Dave Ollie. 



They're like the baby version of they're like the little version or bird version of baby Yoda. I mean, they're the cutest things ever.



You can't You can't not fall in love with a little owl. And of course, they're not babies. They're fully grown. But having a different scale of sizes allows many species of owls to live in one place without having to directly compete for resources. So we're studying those owls. And we have lots I mean, all of these projects have partnerships. So the forest owls, we partner with the Earthwatch Institute, which is actually kind of like an eco tourism on steroids. Like you get to sign up for conservation projects. So it's like your vacation, but you're doing science in the field, green scientists so people can sign up to come learn about forest owls and help out with some of our surveys. And



that's a partnership between hawkwatch and Earthwatch and people can sign up and I guess we should say, anybody listening? How can they get involved if they want,



if you are to our website, hawkwatch.org there is all kinds of links about volunteering and information about the organization. And everything will be there on that website. Cool, easy to find.



So that's one part. What else?



Hmm, so we talked migration, kestrels, forest owls, we have conservation conservation science kind of does a whole different array of things. Earlier Melissa was talking about Golden Eagles in the West desert and now has been a really big and the kind of long running project where you know, we've had crews historically go out into the West desert and search for Eagle mass. That was like a big thing and where kind of do Eagle's Nest Eagle's Nest on clips, okay? Yes, they like to be up high. And they often kind of come back to the same nest year after year. So really, yes, Eagle Golden Eagle nest will be incredibly big. They'll be, you know, over a meter, you know, wide. And sometimes they'll be, you know, over six feet tall and just humans on how long that nest has been used and where it is. But they'll Yep, they'll look for those nests. And then they'll monitor them throughout the season and kind of also monitor the adults and the chicks. And there's a lot that goes on there. And we have another scientist that has also kind of more recently been studying parasites with those nestlings. And there's going to be a lot more that develops on that project.



That's very new. So yeah, they're they're looking at toxicology and parasite impact on these baby eagles. Oh, wow. And, you know, this is like it's unpublished. It's still like very much in the process. But we looked at the habitat issue that I talked about today with cheatgrass and, and problems with prey not having the jackrabbits that they rely on. And now we're looking at like, what are other factors that could influence that? Yeah. And so our conservation science team also does what we call our professional services. So we have some times when somebody wants to say, build a solar farm, or a wind farm, or whatever, and they need someone who's a professional and an expert in rafters to come out and survey the area, make sure that wherever they believe that they're making a good decision, so we help create scientific data that enables land managers to make the best decision for protecting the Raptors?



And do you find that that's a very, like, people are always thinking of that? Or is that something that you have to educate people about?



I think in many instances, that happens, because it's a federal requirements



before you can build a project, you know, for let's say, a wind farm wants to go up, they are required to put together an environmental impact statement, right. And so people like environmental consulting companies, or maybe, in this case, hawkwatch would be, you know, contracted to conduct some surveys, that they would then use those results to help put together that environmental impact statement.



And one of the things that came up while we were having lunch was that, that the these sorts of relationships, particularly in Utah have been really positive is that you were saying, you know, builders and farmers and people were kind of working together to keep things on par.



Yeah, well, especially that's the case in when we talk about sage grouse. So if you fall if you're a person who kind of follows you know, ecology news, the sage grouse is a bird that's kind of on the cusp of potentially being listed as an endangered species. And, and that could be good for the sage grouse. Obviously, it offers them a lot of protections. But it can have some really serious economic disadvantages for the people who use the land where the sage grouse live, right. So there's kind of this coalition that has been built up in the Intermountain West of both people who use the land financially for things like ranching and farming and things like that. Also people who want to use it for recreation, and then people who are scientists and conservationists who just want to protect the land and the species. And so they are working together to try and address the issue before it gets to the point that the federal government has to step in and list the species. So that's some of the newest work we're doing is kind of around some of the interactions between Raptors and other birds and the sage grouse and trying to figure out you know, are Eagles really an issue for sage grouse? Are they are they having any impact on the population? Or is it something else? Or is it a combination? So we're looking at the places where Eagle territory's overlap with sage grouse territories?



One of the things that that reminded me of is, um, you were talking about species getting on the endangered species list. And in your talk, today, you were talking about the peregrine falcon, which we got to meet today, which is so exciting. But I didn't realize the history of it in relationship to being on or off the endangered species list and and and how that changed as a result of a lot of the work of organizations like hawkwatch. I wonder if you might highlight that a little bit.



Yeah. So peregrine falcons were listed in 1972. And then they were delisted in 1999. And the same was true about the same timeline for bald eagles. So this is America's bird, right? This is our national symbol. And, and I mentioned earlier about DDT that was the driving cause of this huge decline in population numbers. But really, in order to bring back these birds, it took a coalition like we're talking about with the sage grouse. It wasn't any one individual entity or organization that made it happen. Really what had to happen is Once we understood that chemical pesticides were the driving factor, people had to decide where we're at, what's my value? What do I value? Right? Do I want to make sure I can just kill every bug that I come in contact with? Or do I recognize that those insects are part of an ecosystem? And I'm part of that ecosystem, too. And so when I'm putting poison into it, you know, what does that really mean in the long run. And so we I mentioned Rachel Carson, who wrote the book Silent Spring, which was what swung public opinion, in the direction of like, we need to be more realistic about how we're using these chemicals, we can't just indiscriminately spray and Carson was never an advocate of getting rid of pesticides entirely, which some of her critics claimed, she really just said, we need to understand what we're putting into the environment, and what its impacts are going to be down the road. So basically, for an order for a species to be delisted, they have to reach a stable population. Usually there's a they have kind of a specific range, and it's kind of a committee decision. There's no like, once you have 200, of whatever that's off, you know, it's going to depend on what the animal is and what their habitat is, and what their historic presence in the area was. All those kinds of things go into making that decision. But generally what it means when a species is delisted is that it has reached a population and is stable, reproducing and maintaining itself without a lot of human intervention. And, and one thing that really allowed Paragons to do that is that they adapted to living among humans, especially in cities, right? So they'll actually nest they love these cliffs, right? So though nest on skyscrapers, and you have these kind of alleyways of skyscrapers picture like New York, and it's like a canyon, it's it, there's an extra updraft coming off of that makes it easy to fly. There's a high place to put your nest and Paragons or bird specialists and there's a very abundant food source and cities are just pigeons. Yeah, so frankly, it's a win win, right? We have something that helps control pigeon populations. And they'll actually use falconers. they'll hire falconers to fly their birds over places where pigeons and starlings and other birds are causing problems. Because once the airport Yeah, airports and orchards and all kinds of things, because once that predator comes out, it's really interesting to observe the change in the, the wildlife. So at my house, when I see a cat in the yard, all the birds are calling to each other, they're warning calls, right? Like, watch out, watch out, there's a cat. When I see a raptor in the area, it goes silent, because they recognize that like they're that that's a predator. Like, I can't get my cats on the ground. But another bird is they can get you wherever you can go. And it's really interesting to see how instinctively, they understand that. So they really respond to other birds that are predators. So it's a powerful tool. And can I just want to mention one other thing about our science project? Yes, because I said there's kind of three. So we have our, our communities science and long term monitoring. We have conservation science, and I really need to give a shout out to our international programs. So the other area we do work is in Africa right now. Oh, wow. And we have a team that works specifically on vultures and some species of eagles and now the black Harrier in different parts of Africa and what's a black Harrier? carriers are a type of Raptor that are really interesting. They have a facial disc almost like an owl, but they their body and their flight patterns look more like a hawk. Oh, they're around we had black Harriers are in Africa, but we have northern Harriers here, okay. And if you see a raptor, really flying low down over a field and kind of weaving back and forth, and just staying really low over the tops of the grass, that's often a Harrier. They're really fun to watch.



long, slender wings, and they also typically have a bit of a longer tail. And they have a white book patch. At least northern hair. Yes,



Northern hair. Yes. Right. Yeah. Okay, so a hair years just another type of Raptors. So yeah, we're doing a lot of work there. vultures are in serious trouble in that part of the world.



All vulturs are in grave trouble all over the world. And globally,



Do we have a solid reason Why?



So historically, vultures have been some of the most like, persecuted Raptors in the world. Right? Like, they tend to have this reputation of being right, you know, gross, or, you know, potentially like a bad omen. Right, right. Like, you know, they're scavengers. But that role as a scavenger is actually, like, critically important on a global scale for all ecosystems, right? So we think of like rafters and apex predators being the things that sit at the top of the food chain, but when you look at a vulture, they are in this kind of unique position where they are even above those apex predators, right? They are an apex scavenger, they sit at the very, very top above all things and they help recycle nutrients back into the ecosystems much quicker. And they I guess I won't get into I can get into the roles afterwards but they because of the way that they forage and eat and they scavenge they're really really sensitive to being poisoned right so earlier today we were talking about how you know DDT was a really really terrible toxin because of how it bio accumulated in right you know in organisms and in the ecosystem but with vultures if they eat anything that's contaminated with any kind of toxin whether it's like lead or maybe even like some kind of what is it arsenic a lot of the times in Africa people will leave out a poisoned you know, carcass to try and kill predators that might be hunting their sheep or they're right okay, but then you know if a group of vultures come and eat that poisoned carcass, they will also die and when vultures you know feed on a carcass they're not just feeding one at a time it's typically groves of several dozen to hundreds and I kind of unique issue that you find in places like Africa or Asia or that poachers Who are you know poaching let's say elephants for their ivory having groups of vultures come to feed on those carcasses was kind of like a big smoke signal of like hey come look at my crime I just left this you know, animal here that I've poached. So to kind of resolve that issue poachers will then poison those carcasses and then you have you know hundreds and hundreds of vultures that will feed on you know a carcass and they will die in these mass numbers so you have things like poisoning you have things like persecution that all kind of contribute to like a really wide scale decline in these Raptors right and there's also like a small portion of vultures that are kind of targeted for like you know traditional medicine purposes and like that kind of distribution of parts but you know on like a illegal market is also an issue but the the main thing is actually poisoning that is kind of the biggest



threat and all of that's in addition to all the other things that rappers have to deal with, right, like habitat loss and climate change and all these other things so it's kind of just being piled upon pile on pile for these soldiers



and a great example of that even happening in the United States is with the California condor right like that was a really big contributor to their decline right there's other issues too but lead yeah lead was a big one and then they were also heavily persecuted Yeah.



Wow. Well, thank you for sharing that I hadn't really thought of that you know, and and this idea of how the carcasses are treated based on all these different scenarios really hadn't hadn't thought of that so cool. Well I think it's time for another song. So let's see the next one I have for you is a song called birds so you know birds okay by Imagine Dragons, one of our sort of local originated I guess in Utah bands and yeah, we'll check it out. So this is birds by Imagine Dragons you listening to KSU Thunder 91 point 1



Music Break 



All right, well, welcome back. This is Lynn Vartan, you're listening to the apex hour, and I have Melissa and Isa here, as part of they work for they are hawkwatch International, which is about 15. Right? You have 15 full time employees,



like 13 to 15. It kind of depends on the, but not a lot.



Yeah, it's small, small but powerful. Right. We were talking, I, you know, in our last break about, you know, some of the issues and we were talking about the vultures, and we're talking about you mentioned, the poisoning and climate change. And one of the things that you did such a great job of, of helping us to understand in your talk today has to do with solutions and the complexity of that. But I'd love to get into that a little bit more and just talk about, you know, how you see solutions for some of these declining populations and, and what people can do or can't do, because I think we are a little bit mistaken in some of the things that work and you know, all that. So, talk to me about solutions.



Yeah, that's a great question. And honestly, I wish there was like a magic wand, right? That there's just one answer, like, just do this, and everything will be okay.



And I also think, you know, across like, just science in general, people would answer this question really differently, for sure.



Yeah. And because I think the reality is there is no one solution. There's no one thing and even with the story of DDT that we told today, banning DDT wasn't that that didn't solve the whole problem, right? That's one part. It was just the beginning solution. And even getting to that point required enough people to sort of speak up to their representatives and put enough pressure on the government to like, take an action. And so from there, it took all kinds of different scientists and nonprofits and private citizens who use their dollars to help fund research and all those things, to get to the point where we could make an impact on these Raptors and bring them back from the brink of extinction. And so I the metaphor, I like to think of is like we've been hearing a lot about diversity in the past, you know, decade or two, and probably should have been hearing more about it sooner. But I think this is something that ecologists have always understood that diversity is essential to healthy functioning of an ecosystem, the more organisms and like sort of components there are in an ecosystem, the more stable it is, the more resilient is the word we use. We used to call an ecosystem stable but resilient is a much better word because there is no such thing as an ecosystem that isn't changing, right? constantly changing and moving and right parts are moving all the time. Time, which also means solutions. 



If we're like looking at, you know, talking solutions, like think maybe a better way to frame that is like, what is the approach to a problem? That is always going to be changing? Yeah. Yeah.



Yeah. And and recognizing that every little change is connected to a bunch of other things, and adjusting, right, like stopping to look, okay, what happened here. I mean, when you look at an ecosystems and population numbers, there's no population, that's just a straight line, like it's going up and down all the time. And that's because it's responding to things. And so that's really what we need is we need to be able to, to make changes, try things, experiment, respond to that, that what we see happening. And we need the diversity of human thought and experience to make those new ideas work, right. So come up, I think one sort of metaphor I heard once for, like, why diversity is so important is like, if you have a team of engineers, and they're trying to build the perfect sandwich, right, and they run out of Mayo, and so they decide to use ketchup instead. And so if those engineers are from if they're all from America, they're gonna go to their fridge and open the door and get the ketchup. And they might notice, hey, I also have some mustard in here, like, that could be good on the sandwich, too. Whereas if you have engineers who are from Europe, and parts of like Asia, and the Middle East, they keep their ketchup in the cupboard, instead of in the fridge. So when they go to open their cupboard, and they see the ketchup, and what's their, in their cupboard, oh, vinegar, and, you know, some soy sauce or something like they have a different experience and a different life, you know, sort of set of formative experiences. And that's going to affect how they think about things. So that creative solution building, we need all those different perspectives, because something that might occur to Isa would probably never occur to me. But when we bring those all together, we have so many more tools in our toolbox to try and address these problems. 



So the power of the individual voice with the all of the experiences that make you who you are, sound, sound like a promising thing. But for people listening who say like, Well, yeah, but what does that mean for? What does that really mean for me? You know, what, what do you say to people who who want to help who want to make a difference? Who want to move forward? What, what do we do?



Well, I think, a really good place to start. And I said this already, once today, but I think it's true, is to look at your local ecosystem, because you are not separated from it. We live in a world with technology, and houses and cars, and it can feel like we're really distant from our ecosystems. But all of those things, even the manmade ones are part of that ecosystem. So what are the challenges in your ecosystem in your backyard? What do you see being the biggest factor that is influencing the health and, and sustainability of that ecosystem, right? And so once you start to identify those issues, and then ask yourself, How can I help this ecosystem be stronger and healthier? So for example, here in Utah, we live in the second driest state in the nation, right? So you may look at something like your landscaping, and say, Okay, we're in a drought, it's not going away, it's not going to change. Are there simple things that I can do to reduce the amount of water that I need for this piece of grass that I walk on? maybe twice a year? Right, right. And so but I, but I also don't, I want to be careful, because not everybody has the ability to rip out their landscaping and put something new in, right, that's expensive. Yeah. And frankly, right now, there's no, sometimes some places there are, but in most places, there's no sort of program to assist you in doing that, right? someplace, sometimes you can get like a small credit on your water bill or things like that. But those things are not going to pay for themselves. And so the bigger and more important thing you can do is look at who are the people who make decisions in my community, right? Who are the local people who decide what our water ordinances are? How do I talk to them about the fact that you know what, I don't think I need this much water, because I don't think my grasp is as important as making sure the rest of this ecosystem has enough, you know, to thrive and survive. And so really, the individual actions we take are great, but what we really need to do is change the system that is making decisions about that ecosystem. Yeah. And so once we use our voices to kind of persuade those people or let those people know that this is important to us, that's going to be the most powerful tool because an ecosystem doesn't I mean, they can vary in scale, of course, but your local ecosystem doesn't just include your yard. It includes your entire community, right, right and the surrounding landscape. And so real solutions have to happen on that scale. And the best way to do that is to talk to them People who are in power and have the ability to make those decisions on that scale.



Cool. Thank you for that. The call to action for everyone in that way? Well, there's one more topic. I mean, I could go on and on. But we're almost out of time. There's one more topic I'd love to get to. And that is the birds that are in your hawkwatch family. And one of the things that we loved about the website was we could not we saw that the birds have BIOS and the ones that you take out to meet people. And I was just kind of curious how that process happen. How does a bird come to be with you? Are you getting requests all the time? I mean, how does that all happen? How does goose the peregrine falcon, you know, come to be a hawkwatch spokesperson, if you will, in a way.



He said I are fighting over who gets to talk. And so all of our birds at hawkwatch are wild animals, we always emphasize that with with people. And for whatever reason, they can't be released back into the wild. So they're you could call them rescues, I think is a good word for it. Some of them are physically healthy, but they are what we call human imprints. So if a bird is taken out of its nest from its parents at a young age, they can really not learn the skills that they need to succeed in the wild. It doesn't mean that they think they're human, or that they think we are birds. They just don't we're not very good at teaching birds how to be birds, right? Because we're humans, right? We can it can happen. It does happen sometimes. But it can be tough and especially if by the time a bird gets into a rehabber, a lot of the time whoever quote unquote rescued it has spent too much time with it already for it to really recover. So we have a couple birds that are in print so they can fly their bodies are sound, but they don't know how to hunt and I call it the pizza syndrome. It's like why make dinner every night when I can just someone's just going to bring me the pizza that's all ready to go. Right. So in some ways, maybe they're smart. I don't know it seems they figured it out. So and then we also have birds that are have injuries that have made it impossible for them. So the tubers we brought, we have brought a peregrine falcon named goose she's an imprint. She was a falconers bird. They were falconry is a sport where you hunt, you use Falcons to hunt animals. So obviously your Falcon has to know how to hunt. Yeah, and she escaped from her. Whoever had her we never found her owner. She was starving. So clearly, that process had not gone as it should have, right. So she's an imprint. And then we also brought a screech owl named Artemis. Artemis was via the victim of a vehicle collision. Oh, and so Artemis had some damage to her eye. So in one of her eyes, she has essentially no vision. And unfortunately, that just makes it really difficult for her to navigate and to hunt vision is, is the most important sense that Raptors have to be successful. So all the birds are in our care for the rest of their lives. And we have a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for education. And as a requirement from that permit, we literally they have to do education, they have a job. And they're our co workers and our partners, we really think of it that way. Like they kind of have to they have to earn those mice and those quail that we feed them, you know, and so you know, the, the other alternative for them would be euthanasia. Wow. And so this is an opportunity for the bird to have a really good life. I mean, they're spoiled, we take really good care of them. Yeah. And I think as you saw today, when you meet a bird like that face to face, like I can talk about science all day long. But ultimately, like 30 seconds with that bird, for many people is so much more impactful. Yeah. Or at least makes what I say have a context that becomes meaningful to them.



So you always have a certain number of birds or do you do you have someone who goes around to rescues looking for candidate? I mean, how does that part of the product do people call you and say, I found a bird, please take it in,



if people call us all the time, but we're not a rehab center. So we do work with rehabbers and oftentimes will help people get birds to rehabbers because what we can do is catch and handle birds like Isa is actually really great with wild birds. Having spent time in migration is a knows how to capture a bird without hurting themselves and without hurting the bird right? So will often help people like get birds to rehabbers. But really, it's limited by how much space we have. So we have you know each bird has its own enclosure. It's not it's free, flighted, they can move around wherever they want inside that enclosure. And then they also get outside every day that we have a weathering yard where they get to have sun and some stimulation, you know, some enrichment in that way. And so we can't really get a new bird until we have space for a new bird. 



And in human care Raptors can live a long time, right? I was wondering I bet that because there's safe and healthy and they go



to the vet and they, you know, they get fed, they get vitamins and supplements and, and I want to be one of those. Sometimes I think they get, they get little pedicures, you know we, I mean that's not true, we but we do like oil. And so depending on the species we might have, and a lot of times we don't know how old a bird is when we get it right, right. But if we get a bird that's young, it can be with us, you know, depending on the species anywhere from 10 to 50 years, our eagles, Eagles can go 50 years. So you know, we have a red tailed Hawk right now that's 31 years old. So he's kind of semi retired, he's our old man. And that may be a record, we're not sure we're kind of trying to figure that out.



But and how do their behavior does their behavior change as they age?



Yes, I mean, like any, just like a human right? You're they get arthritis. Oh, you know, they can have strokes and, and organ issues. And it's interesting because you see behaviors in geriatric birds that you don't see in the wild, because most wild birds don't live that long, right? So sometimes we have people you know, who are volunteers or things that are helping us and they get alarmed that a bird is laying down or exhibiting a behavior. But you know, as we talk to our vet, a lot of times, it's just you don't see that in the wild, because they don't make they don't live that long. And we were talking about in the car between 50 and 60% of Raptors don't survive their first year. So once you get through that first year, as a raptor, you usually you're an apex predator. So you usually have a pretty good shot. You know, of course, nature is nature. So you're always at risk. But it's, it's possible to live a pretty decent lifespan and human care just makes it a lot longer.



Thank you so much. Well, one and once again, the website is hawkwatch.org. Go and check it out, look at the programs, read about them and learn more about all the great work that's going on at hawkwatch International. I have one last question that I asked everyone. And that question is what's turning you on this week, and it doesn't have to have anything to do with your job. It's just sort of a fun, you know, little thing for people to find out. It could be a TV show. It could be a movie, it could be a book, it could be a song, it could be a food, it could be anything at all. So I'm going to ask you guys so Melissa, what's turning you on this week?



So I just finished the Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Did you love I loved it. It was so great. And I had already read CRC. I heard Yeah, but Madeline Miller. Fantastic if I mean, it's just really a great. It's a retelling of essentially the Iliad, but so good. So much better. So somebody feels it was a great book. Okay, cool.



Thank you. So what's turning you on this week?



I'm going to keep this wrapped or related. It's fall migration. So what's turning me on this week is the sky just looking around. during migration, it's the time of year to see Raptors that don't typically stay here in Utah. So you can see some pretty cool species flying by. So check out your local sky.



Yeah. What did you Was it a broad wing top, which is one that's not typical around here, migrating.



Oh my gosh, I bet being on a road trip with you guys is really fun, because you could point out all this burden



Or it like insufferable.



I think fun. But on that note, we're gonna sign off for this week, Isa and Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about hawkwatch International and these amazing apex predators that are all around us. Thank you. All right, we'll see everybody next week. Thanks so much for listening to the apex hour here on KSU. Us Thunder 91.1. come find us again next Thursday at 3pm for more conversations with the visiting guests at Southern Utah University, and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our band on campus. To find out more, check out suu.edu slash apex. Until next week, this is Lynn Vardhan saying goodbye from the apex our here on Thunder 91.1