Libby’s Accident (and the Urban Accipiter Phenomenon)

By now at least half the town knows that Lib fell off a ladder tending to the pigeons in the “trap” on top of the pigeon loft. I use “trap” in quotes, because normally it is a pigeon racer’s term for sort of double entrance chamber used in racing pigeon competitions to control access. But in this case we have been trying to catch and remove two first year’s “Urban Coopers” who have set up on my loft and, so far this late summer and fall, have killed over twenty pigeons from the flight loft.

A writer to the Magdalena E- Board says the following: “If that’s not a joke about the hawk and the pigeon, let me give you the ornithological point of view. Let nature take its course. Hawks are predators and need to kill smaller birds to feed themselves and their offspring. A certain group of hawks called Accipiters prey almost exclusively on other birds. Let them do it. It’s nature’s way.”

I don’t know quite where to start. As anyone knows,I am more than familiar with Accips, having flown two subspecies of Goshawks in four states and having seen` them flown in five countries.

But “Nature’s Way”? The Urban Accipiter is a brand new, human- influenced phenomenon. In Asia and eastern Europe, as documented ably by England’s Conor Jameson in his book Looking for the Goshawk; Gosses, a near- wilderness species in western North America (you can find pairs in The San Mateos near Grassy Lookout, and in the Magdalenas up the canyon from the Water Canyon Peregrine nest in wet years), are now common inhabitants of urban parks, even in Moscow and East Germany. The great Russian wildlife artist Vadim Gorbatov,who has painted quail on Lee Henderson’s ranch, done Water Canyon as a backdrop for a children’s book on Peregrine reintroduction,

and who drank that”good Mexicanski vodka” (tequila) at the Spur, lives in a Moscow high- rise, and painted his resident Gos catching a hooded crow in front of his apartment for my book,At the Edge of the Wild

We don’t know why Goshawks are invading the cities, but we do know something about Coopers. The phenomenon was first noticed in the early 90’s in Tucson, when a University of Arizona study of the Coopers hawk there revealed the then-astounding number of 160 pairs within metropolitan Tucson’s boundaries. The population then was unhealthy, though large. The hawks were living entirely on urban feral pigeon and the unnaturally large population of white- winged, Aztec,and ground doves which the city, with its water and plantings, attracted. These birds had endemic Trichomonas gallinae, a disease which did not harm the pigeons much but killed the predators. Only the resistant hawks survived, and once the population became resistant, it nearly tripled, to a density unknown in any wild situation. The species received a second winnowing from West Nile disease, which killed as many as 7/8 of the raptors (not just Coops)that got it. The resulting urban populations have doubtless been genetically changed to one with the disease resistant genes. They have also changed their habits– I’d bet that they don’t interbreed with their mountain cousins much. This kind of “voluntary” isolating mechanism is just how Menno Schilthuizen suggested that sympatric speciation, far rarer than allopatric, could take place (in Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions— he even convinced scary old Ernst Mayr, in his nineties at the time!)

This is all for bio- wonks. Practical point is, there are probably a THOUSAND pairs in the Rio Grande Bosque, nesting in people’s backyards and making pests of themselves dive- bombing runners (both my female doctors have been attacked by them in Albuquerque– luckily even a big western female doesn’t weigh more than a male homing pigeon, though their long tails can make them look as big as Goshawks. They are utterly without fear. Even the wilderness ones are bold; I once watched a female in Copper canyon roll a skulking raven twice her size that had been searching for nests three times, like a leopard attacking a bear. These ones are ridiculous; Lib poked the male with a stick and he just SAT there, and as she was doing this, the female cut in and carried off a pigeon! If they were the size of Crowned eagles, we’d all be carrying ten- bore shotguns or howdah pistols. They have also moved uphill (not down I think) to live in Magdalena. Until five years ago or so Coopers lived only in the the mountains, nesting in deciduous trees in the canyon bottoms, and rarely attacked my pigeons (I have been here 36 years). In the last couple of years they have become a problem. This particular young unmated “pair”, birds born this spring, learned to hunt on (mostly my) domestic pigeons and the infernal exotic Eurasian Collared doves, which in the last decade have replaced the “natural” southern invasive White wings (up from Texas and Arizona naturally, not coming from the east in an invasive wave). The pair have killed so many of my flying pigeon flock is threatened. As a falconer, I can legally trap raptors, and I see no difficulty in catching them and releasing them in Socorro, where they can eat feral pigeons to their content and not both my highly bred, expensive fliers.

So LIbby was up on a ladder putting water in to the birds in the trap, when the ladder broke and she fell between the halves. (I had been up there the day before and had warned her it was shaky). Luckily our friend Kim, who has been helping us with animals the past couple of weeks, was there, because I was inside working. At the Emergency Room, they found that she had lost two teeth, broken a rib, and needed several stitches on her face. She remains in a good mood with the help of Nurse Ataika, but it turns out we we were lucky to have missed getting our pup last week as it would have been a pretty hairy situation…

“… nature is portrayed poorly whenever harmony is implied.” _ Aussie ornithologist Tim Low.

UPDATE on hawks courtesy of Paul Domski: “Brian [Milsap, USFWS biologist] said that if you are standing at a Coop nest, there are 4 others within a 1/2 mile, or something close to that. “

Animal progress

Irb is better all the time and thinks he is 100%, though he still has a month on house arrest before he can run loose. (WE are a bit battered but that will be another story– he nearly broke Libby’s ribs the other night).

When he is running we will give any benefactor who requests it a photo of just that!

Meanwhile BB approaches the hood dubiously as part of his conditioning.

Animals are such FUN.

Doggie Disaster and bleg

Yesterday we took the dogs out to the Indian ruin today for a run — all of them (except Lily, the ancient dachshund) together. They were so excited to be out. Before we even got down the hill to the arroyo we heard one of the dogs screaming in pain. We ran over and there was Irbis, lying down with an obviously broken leg…it was dangling from the rest of his leg, and he was bleeding where the bone had come through the skin. Best we can figure is that he stepped in an animal hole and it snapped like a stick. We carried him, screaming in pain, back to the car, rounded all the others up, and called our vet, who was not there, nor were the other Socorro vets (of course it’s the Sunday after Christmas). We went up to the emergency vet in Los Lunas, where they took two xRays, had us wait a long time, and told us that his leg was badly broken and might have to be amputated; they don’t do orthopedic procedures there, so we then (after they charged us $317 for doing practically nothing) went up to an Albuquerque clinic that is open all the time and where we know two of the vets through falconry. Ray looked at the xrays and told us that he thought he could pin or plate it together if there was no nerve damage; if the nerves are too damaged he thought it would be best to amputate it.

They presented us with an estimate of $2200 and said we would have to give them a deposit for $600 before they would even look at him further; and that the balance would be due when we pick him up on Tuesday. Luckily son Jackson and his wife Niki were with us, and they put the deposit on their emergency credit card. But we have to get the rest together. Libby’s 92 year old mother, who is in a nursing home, is going to see what she can do on such short notice — we don’t think her money is terribly liquid.


We’re feeling very depressed at the moment — we can hardly bear the thought of his losing a leg, especially as he’s just 11 months old. So we’re asking you, our friends, if you can help in any way, even with a small amount — they add up quickly. If you want to contribute, the best thing would be to call the vet’s office with a credit or debit card number — they expect to be paid IN FULL by Tuesday afternoon when we go to pick him up after his surgery. We need at least $1700(we have come up with loans of $800) to get him out, and need to repay Jackson and Niki, though they are infinitely patient. The phone number at Petroglyph Vet Clinic is 505-898-8874 — they’re a 24 hour operation. Ray Hudgell is the vet and the account number for Irbis is 4116.

I’ll be glad when this year is over! Meanwhile investigating pet insurance — this can’t happen again.

UPDATE: WE have reached our goal– thanks to all. Now we just pray there are no complications!

UPDATE 2: He is home after an exhausting day, & seems pretty good considering. He can walk to pee (though as yet hasn’t). There is no cast at all– just stitches. The plate is inside, and he has to wear an “Elizabethan” collar which he hates to keep him from biting them. But it makes it easy to observe the wound clearly.

The vets desk didn’t take down all the names who contributed so please if I miss anyone in the coming days let me know ( I will not rave on the stupidity of front desks— yet). We probably have enough credit to cover the next (3) visits.

We have amazing friends– I cannot say enough thanks, but will try.