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Open space campaign signs become hawk perches

by Linda Hiller, Staff Writer

All was not lost with the failed open space tax proposal, at least as far as the Carson Valley’s migratory and resident raptors are concerned.

One member of the open space committee decided to make lemonade out of lemons in response to defeat of the quarter-cent sales tax initiative to pay for open space.

Rather than completely take down the open space campaign signs, he is converting the 8-foot posts that held those signs to raptor perches.

“I was devastated that open space didn’t pass,” said Dan Kaffer, Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development coordinator. “So, when I thought about taking the signs down, I thought, ‘You might as well do something beneficial,’ so why not convert the sign posts to hawk perches?”

The idea actually came to Kaffer during the Nov. 4 Carson River Workday, he said.

“I’d seen a rough-legged hawk with a full white head at the Sarman Ranch where we were working on the river,” Kaffer said. “There we were, putting up all those great wood duck and bat boxes, and I thought it would be a good idea to carry that process on with the hawk perches.”

n The Valley’s hawks. The Carson Valley is well known among bird watchers as a haven for wintering hawks. In the Nevada Wildlife Viewing Guide, Jacks Valley Road from Highway 395 to Highway 88 is listed as not only prime mule deer range, but also as a great place to spot hawks.

“Watch fence posts and utility poles for red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and occasional bald eagles and Swainson’s hawks,” the guide book suggests.

In winter, the Swainson’s hawks migrate to South America and the rough-legged hawks migrate in from their breeding grounds in the Arctic, changing their diet from lemmings to rabbits, mice and other Carson Valley prey. Ferruginous hawks also migrate in from the north, and other Valley species – American kestrels, prairie falcons, Cooper’s hawks, Swainson’s hawks, turkey vultures, golden eagles, merlins and red-shouldered hawks – move in and out of the area with weather conditions and migration patterns, depending on the species.

While some of the Valley’s raptors (northern harriers, rough-legged and ferruginous hawks) like to stand on the ground, nesting and hunting from there, the vast majority prefer a perch – a tree, a telephone pole, a fence post, a rooftop, an open space signpost, perhaps – from which to perch and look for their supper or encroaching enemies or just to spend the night.

“Every year, dozens of hawks, and probably an equal number of owls, get smashed on our roads because they’re just sitting on fence posts,” Kaffer said. “At least these 8-foot perches get them up higher, and it’s been shown that perches reduce losses that ranchers and farmers have in their fields, so it’s a good bio-control for them, too. People who have put up raptor perches and windbreaks have almost eliminated the need for rodent control. It’s good for the hawks and good for the ranchers.”

n Area birder concurs. Carson City bird expert and longtime Carson Valley birder Jack Walters said the hawk perches can serve to replace trees that formerly served as vantage points for area raptors.

“I like the man-made perches they already have along the highway in the Carson Valley – like the ones on Arnold Settelmeyer’s ranch, for example,” Walters said. “We used to have more cottonwood trees there along the highway, and every time we lose a tree, we lose a place for the hawks to perch and to nest. Most of our hawks and eagles are open area raptors. They need wide open spaces on which to live and safe perches to land on and look out over those vast lands.”

Pullout:

If you are interested in learning more about area raptors, Walters will lead a field trip some time this winter. For more information, e-mail hiller@swiftnews.com or call 782-5121.