National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE EAGLE, KING OF BIRDS, AND HIS KIN movements of men through the country will bear scrutiny, as frequently men leave behind them food in the form of animals killed, or offal from large bodies that have been butchered. To test this, it is necessary only to sit on the open ground while skinning a rabbit or some large bird, and if you are in a region where turkey buzzards are common, it will be only a few moments until one or two are wheeling overhead. If there is promise of food, they remain; if not, they continue their search elsewhere. In South America yellow-headed buz zards (Cathartes urubitinga) have fol lowed me into woodland where I was seated on the ground entirely concealed and engaged in examining birds that I had killed for specimens. The buzzards alighted a few feet away to watch me curiously. I have had buzzards come to eat the flesh from carcasses of their own kind which I had skinned where I had shot the birds. Possibly this was unin tentional cannibalism, as there was nothing about the bodies to distinguish them from the skinned -bodies of any other birds. There can be no doubt that the buzzard has learned to watch the actions of dogs whose activities may indicate the presence of carrion concealed in caves or holes. There is also the probability that the pres ence of buzzing flesh flies that breed in carrion may be an indication to the buz zard of a concealed food supply. There fore, admitting that the turkey buzzard has a well-developed olfactory nerve, and thus might be expected to have some sense of smell, to me present evidence indicates that it finds its food mainly, if not en tirely, through its acute sense of sight. MAN'S HAND IS AGAINST THE HAWK TRIBE The hand of civilized man has been raised universally against the hawk tribe, and birds of this group are shot or other wise destroyed at every opportunity. It is rare, indeed, for hawks to come within gun range of a hunter without receiving a charge of shot, and they are killed in many localities by setting steel traps on the tops of posts or poles that the birds utilize as perches. In England it is the duty of game keepers to kill all "vermin" that appear on the property under their charge, hawks being included in this category. On a large estate near the Thames I once saw a "keeper's larder" where, near a frequented path, the gamekeeper had hung up his kills for display. These included the drying skeletons of sparrow hawks (a species related to the American sharp-shinned hawk), kestrels (allied to the American sparrow hawk), magpies, and jays, with a few small predatory mammals. Belief in the destructiveness of hawks is almost universal. In most minds there is no distinction between hawks that habitu ally prey on birds and may destroy a cer tain amount of game, and the sluggish, heavy-flying species that feed consistently on wild mice and other destructive rodents, and so are beneficial to man. The game commissions of many States have offered bounties for the heads of hawks and have expended hundreds of thousands of dollars in the destruction of untold thousands of them. The result is that in the eastern half of the United States these birds have decreased to less than a tenth of their former abundance. Since the decrease has affected the bene ficial kinds even more heavily than those that are classed as injurious, there has been an increase in destructive rodents formerly held in check by hawks, with the result that these animals have done severe damage to agricultural interests. The Cooper's hawk and the goshawk are the principal species that are destruc tive to game, with the marsh hawk to be added in certain localities where pheasants and other game birds that range in the open are concerned. It may be permis sible to keep these hawks in check, and to include among those to be killed the occa sional individual of the red-tailed hawk or other species that acquires the habit of coming to the farmyard for chickens. There is, however, no excuse whatever for the widespread slaughter of all kinds of hawks that has been the fate of these birds for years. Sportsmen have justified the indiscrimi nate killing of hawks on the ground that they were conserving game; in other words, with the excuse that they were providing more game for men to kill. Nowadays, with nature lovers, who do not hunt, equal ing sportsmen in numbers, some consider ation may be given to the rights of those who enjoy seeing hawks alive and study ing their interesting ways, aside from the value that most of these birds have from their beneficial food habits.