When a female Swainson’s hawk was brought in to the Birds of Prey Foundation on Aug. 24, no one knew what was wrong with the bird.

The hawk was found on a road unable to fly. It wasn’t until the Broomfield raptor rescue performed an X-ray that staff saw a pellet lodged in the animal’s chest.

The hawk is one of many birds that have been turned into the Birds of Prey Foundation after being shot with a pellet gun. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued a news release asking for people to stop shooting pellets at birds of prey, which include hawks, owls, falcons and eagles. Shooting the birds, which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, is against state and federal law and punishable by fine and even jail time.

Courtesy of Birds of Prey Foundation

An X-ray of Swainson’s hawk taken in August shoes a pellet lodged in the bird’s chest. The X-ray was taken by the Birds of Prey Foundation after the injured bird was brought in for care.

Starting in July, Desirae Kovacich, the Intensive Care Unit manager for Birds of Prey, said the number of pellet gun injuries sparked a mandatory X-ray for all admitted birds.

“We’ve always gotten shot birds in, but over the spring and summer of this year, we got 11 birds in under four months and those are just the one we X-rayed in and definitively know they were shot,” Kovacich said. “We’ve never had this many in such a close time frame before.”

While Kovacich said she can’t say for sure, she believes the increase in bird shootings is a result of people trying to scare the animals off their property and away from pets. She emphasized there are a variety of ways to scare off birds of prey without harming them, including spraying them with a garden hose. Removing low shrubs, bushes and tall grass also can deter the birds by keeping away the prey species on which they like to snack.

A bird shot with a pellet gun can take weeks or even months to rehabilitate, which can be costly to the donations-based foundation. Admitted birds who have been shot may suffer broken bones, either from the pellet or from falling after being struck. When shot, feathers and debris can be pushed into the wound, which can cause infection. Lead toxicity also can leach from the lodged pellet into the bird’s blood.

“And it makes them really, really sick and they can die from that. The medications we use to help with the lead are very expensive, as are the tests,” Kovacich said.

The Swainson’s hawk that was admitted Aug. 24 is still being rehabilitated after she was found to have a high level of lead in her blood. Kovacich added that trying to draw a wild bird’s blood is no easy feat and is a stressful for the bird.

The foundation keeps a box of items it has found wrapped around birds or extracted from them. The box includes twine, a fishing lure and a bottle with tiny brown pieces of bird shot.

“As insignificant as it seems, it is really, really damaging to them,” Kovacich said.

At the Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Longmont, Chelsea Barrett, the nonprofit’s development manager, said fortunately, finding animals with pellet gun injuries is rare.This year Greenwood has seen one bird, an American crow, with a pellet gun injury, Barrett said. In past years, the center has seen some pellet injuries in rabbits, doves and squirrels.

Greenwood is not licensed to treat birds of prey and refers people who find injured raptors to the Birds of Prey Foundation. It also passes along the message that hurting birds of prey hurts the ecosystem, Barrett said.

“When those guys are disappearing, you know there is something going on with local wildlife,” Barrett said. “It is important for farmers to have a predator and prey balance.”

Birds of prey also mitigate pests like mice, voles and rats. Additionally, the creatures are also an incredible sight to behold, Kovacich said.

“They are very fascinating animals,” she said.

Kovacich encouraged those looking for additional tips for keeping birds of prey away to call the foundation at 303-460-0674.

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