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The Good and Bad of Road Kills -- How You Can Help Save Lives

Wildlife News


Road Kills:  Good Food -- Bad Food

Bald eagles are marvelous scavengers  The classic example is the concentration of thousands of eagles on salmon spawning rivers to feast on dead salmon carcasses.  Across the country winter killed deer or elk are prime food sources.  Any human refuse dump can be another great source of protein.  On our BC coast the frequent die-offs of hundreds of thousands of salmon at fish farms are often deposited in land fills since they are too toxic to leave in the sea!!  Anyone eating a farm-raised salmon, probably the most contaminated food source on the market, deserves poisoning.  The eagles don't deserve this fate but these salmon carcasses are nothing more than another great salmon spawn to them.

On our coast the frequent die-offs of hundreds of thousands of salmon at the fish farms are often deposited in land fills since they are too toxic to leave in the sea!! Anyone eating a farm-raised salmon, probably the most contaminated food source on the market, deserves the poisoning.  The eagles don't deserve this fate but these salmon carcasses are nothing more than another great salmon spawn to them.    

But road kills become another enormous and continent-wide source of food in rural and urban areas.

The road kill, however important to the eagles, is also a double edged sword.  It offers food but at incredible risk.  Just the habit of flying low over the road, be it inspecting a road kill or actually sitting on a roadway to eat a carcass is often deadly to scavengers and predators.  And of course our bald eagles are both scavengers and predators.  Last year we had a known loss of three females to road kills during the rearing period -- and this also resulted in the loss of the deserted chicks.

Today around the Greater Vancouver area, which you may recall I have named the Bald Eagle Capitol of the the World, road kills compete with electrocutions for the largest bald eagle mortality.  Of course electrocutions are completely preventable so this leaves road kills, which are also most often preventable, as an opportunity for teaching the public how to stop them.   Effective control is readily and simply available in many cases.  Yes we can all contribute to reducing this pervasive cause of death. The solution is simple. It does require personal responsibility. UGH!

Nobody has spent many miles on the road with me
to not have seen how to help stop raptor losses at road kills.  I frequently, it should be invariably, stop to simply remove the dead animal carcass from the road.  I generally throw the carcass across a ditch into an adjacent field.  At times I pick up the carcass and take it to some convenient field adjacent to a nesting pair of eagles, or simply some field away from a road, so that eagles, vultures or even coyotes can feed without risk of being hit by a passing vehicle. Taking the carcass to the region of a nesting pair always seems the bonus to me. A ten pound coon can feed a pair of adults and their demanding young for 2 or 3 days. A dead gull or duck is a day's food for the family.  Our suburban and urban birds perform this clean-up so I encourage it.

Oh I can see some strident officer of the law, one with little conservation knowledge, saying you can't touch wildlife.  Nonsense. If you are removing a carcass from the road you are not just preventing further animal deaths but assisting in road safety for humans as well.  Many a person has been killed and many maimed in trying to avoid a deer, dog or raccoon carcass and driven off the road or into another passing vehicle.  This practice of removing dead carcasses from roads should be a prime safety measure for all police and road crew personnel.   It is fundamentally a responsibility of our paid workers to keep the roads safer and this function should be at the top of their list. It isn't always.  It should be written into all job descriptions of police and highway crews so they could not plead stupidity.

In short in many areas this practice is already considered a prime activity for police and road crews. This habit is particularly common in areas where deer concentrate along winter roads. Some of these concentrations are called "deer yards" and adjacent roads can the death traps for the 100 to 1000's of deer that annually pass through or winter on these sites.  The road crews in these areas often set up "Eagle Cafe's" -- dump sites where they take all the carcasses. The eagles, coyotes and sometimes 'non-sleeping' bears frequent these sites and they are often the source of great photographs.

However, the vast majority of small road kills, the pheasants, ducks, rabbits, coons, dogs and cats -- and even rats  -- remain on the roads to attract eagles, red-tail hawks and other scavenges. Removing these small items is a simple task -- just pick it up and fling it away from the road  -- and an eagle's life may be saved.

Over my lifetime I have removed more than 100 dead raptors, not just the roadkills, from roads where they were the secondary victim of a roadkilled carcass.  I always check for bands.

I usually carry a folded up tarp or bucket
in the car and always have a serviette from some coffee and donut handy to hold the animal's leg or tail for a good grip -- for the 'fling to the field'.  The time and effort is nothing but satisfying.  It sure beats picking up, adjacent to these road kills, the extra carcass of the eagle or red-tail that was killed eating that road-kill. 


Today I was reminded by this sad sequence.  I was travelling down Highway 99 near White Rock and noticed a dead adult bald eagle in the right lane.  I quickly pulled over, backed up very cautiously and very sadly gathered up a badly crushed body.  I was on the way to check another bald eagle nest that was in danger of being cut down so on return I checked out the two adjacent nesting territories:  the Nicowynd and Morgan Creek nests.  Both only had one adult on site. However, the Nicowyn nest was very distressing.  The male was standing in the nest giving a loud wailing distress call, in a couple of minutes it jumped to a branch above the nest and repeated the call. Then after 10 minutes of calling from there it jumped back to the nest and continued the call.  Bad, bad.  This was a very distressed and confused bird.  To me it was giving the distress call and expecting a partner to respond.  But no response.

I fear this is the pair that has been broken up.  I have been trying to contact Les who has the "MyNicowynd.com" website as he keeps a keen watch on this site and hopefully I will hear back from him shortly.

I will update you on this
.  In the meantime -- please remove roadkills  from the roadsides to adjacent fields etc. so more predators -- and particularly our eagles -- don't get killed.

David Hancock


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Authored by: Les Elias on Friday, April 09 2010 @ 05:55 PM EDT Road Kills

David  contacted me about the road kill and first it seemed that it was the female from Nico Wynd. Now I think that it wasn't our female. By the end of the day of the road kill, there were two eagles at the nest, side by side. Since then they seem to have the same favorite branches to rest on as before. A week later they were mating and now there is almost always one eagle down in the nest.
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