Idiocy With Guns

OK, I’m just about speechless. Look at this.

Bird experts and enthusiasts reacted with surprise and anger Thursday when they learned that two nesting hawks at an exclusive golf resort in Orange County were shot down by federal agents.

The red-shouldered hawks were killed Wednesday morning near the clubhouse of the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort near Interstate 4 and south of the Dr. Phillips community. About a dozen guests had complained of being attacked.


The resort asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to remove the birds, which can have wing spans of nearly 4 feet and prey on snakes, frogs and insects. Although relatively common in Florida, red-shouldered hawks are federally protected.

After an agency biologist determined the birds were a threat to people, an agency technician killed them with a shotgun. Both hawks were perched in trees in an area cleared of employees and guests, Channell said.

Bernice Constantin, state director of wildlife services in Gainesville for the Agriculture Department, said the shooting of raptors is a rare event.

I’ll bet it is. Especially for the USDA, which is not the relevant authority. The US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior is the government agency charged with issuing permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They are the ones that the USDA gets permits from, and they should have been handed the problem immediately.

They might have had a few synapses more to put on the problem than did the USDA agents (“On *whose* side?”) who were obviously way beyond their cognitive capabililties on this one.

Addition: Hat tip to grrlscientist, who had this advice:

Okay, peeps, EVERYONE who cares about how wildlife-human conflicts are handled in this country should write STRONG complaints about this incident.

Huh. It may be that my friend and colleague from when I was at the University of Florida, Dr. Barbara Kohn, will end up fielding some of your complaints, as she works for USDA’s APHIS.


You know, I got to thinking about what good would come of writing to USDA to ask them to police themselves. What we have here is a pretty clear case of exceedingly poor judgement (at best) or a possible violation of the permit.

Write, email, or telephone US Fish and Wildlife Service and suggest that they rescind the USDA permit to deal with native bird species. As a poor second, ask that the USDA’s permit be revised to explicitly bar them from taking lethal measures in dealing with native bird species, or that lethal measures may only be applied with written approval of F&WS. At the very minimum, the two USDA idiot field agents responsible for this fiasco absolutely must be removed from the current permit. I think that complaints to the permitting agency are more likely to produce results than complaints to the perpetrating agency.

Here is US F&WS contact information for the relevant region:

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Permit Office
P.O. Box 49208
Atlanta, GA 30359

Tel. (404) 679-7070
Fax (404) 679-4180
(Please include your telephone number in the text of your message so we may better serve you).

If you would be so kind, please enter a copy of what you send to either the USDA or US F&WS in a comment here, too.

Update: A comment on “Scientist Interrupted” site relates that the nest was left for two days. When the nest was finally examined, the chicks were dead. It also reports that the golf course management consulted with Florida Audubon, who told them about a successful relocation of hawks and their nest. The golf course management apparently decided that would take too long. So my previous willingness to give the golf course management the benefit of doubt (perhaps they just called a trigger-happy agency by chance) is fast fading. It isn’t just the idiots in the USDA who need taking down a notch or two. Word is that the birding community intersects and overlaps with the golf community, and a boycott of the course is being urged.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

8 thoughts on “Idiocy With Guns

  • 2006/04/07 at 12:38 am

    Here’s my email to the Fish and Wildlife Service:

    I am writing to you because of the news report at,0,2243389.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-orange


    The resort asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to remove the birds, which can have wing spans of nearly 4 feet and prey on snakes, frogs and insects. Although relatively common in Florida, red-shouldered hawks are federally protected.

    After an agency biologist determined the birds were a threat to people, an agency technician killed them with a shotgun. Both hawks were perched in trees in an area cleared of employees and guests, Channel ll said.

    [End quote]

    I believe that you are the agency that issues permits under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

    I suggest that a full review of the USDA permit be conducted in light of this incident. If the new report is accurate, it would seem that there is good reason to question whether the USDA permittees should continue to hold their permit. If a permit of some form must be extended to USDA, I suggest that it bar them from using lethal methods, or require specific Fish and Wildlife Service approval of lethal methods on a case-by-case basis. At the very least, the two USDA agents mentioned in the article above should be specifically removed from the current permit and all future permits issued to USDA under the Migratory Bird Act. If there is some mechanism for tracking names, they should be barred from any such permit, even if they leave the employ of USDA.

    Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.
    Class of 2003, Texas A&M University, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

  • 2006/04/07 at 8:33 am

    Hawks are a nuisance and they also hunt endangered songbirds which is reason enough to shoot them. I prefer to kill them with a rifle though. It’s more sporting that way. But I suppose if all I had was a shotgun with me I’d use it rather than miss an opportunity.

  • 2006/04/07 at 8:59 am

    Hey, it’s a troll. Don’t feed it.

    But, if you do see someone shooting a hawk, whether with rifle or shotgun, contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They do take action. Heck, if you see someone harassing a native bird, they are there to stop the problem and often do pursue criminal charges. Here’s some bits from their 2003 Annual Report:

    Safeguarding Protected Species Special agents investigate cases involving the unlawful take of federally protected wildlife
    as endangered and threatened species, migratory birds, eagles, and marine mammals.


    Migratory Birds and Eagles

    • A Norwegian shipping company pleaded guilty in connection with an oil spill off the coast of South Carolina that killed more than 180 protected migratory birds. Penalties included a criminal fine of $200,000 and the payment of $300,000 in restitution for use in supporting wildlife and habitat conservation projects in the Carolinas.
    • A North Carolina man who cut down a tree containing a bald eagle nest and two immature, flightless eagles was ordered to pay $90,000 in restitution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $1,000 to the Eastern Carolina Raptor Rehabilitation Center. He was also fined $5,000 and sentenced to serve six months home confinement and two years probation.
    • Service agents brought charges against five Minnesota men involved in a pheasant rearing organization who killed 91 owls and five hawks using pole traps. Penalties assessed included $5,000 in fines and $17,000 in restitution.
    • The Service teamed with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to investigate an individual who poisoned more than 217 horned larks and snow buntings. Under a plea agreement, the defendant must pay $7,500 in civil penalties and $10,000 in restitution.
    • Four ranchers in Nebraska who used lamb and coyote carcasses treated with an agricultural pesticide to kill at least 12 bald eagles will pay a total of $4,000 in fines and $20,000 in restitution. 7
    • Wildlife poisoning investigations in the Southeast saw a Kentucky farmer pay more than $11,000 in fines and restitution for killing 40 federally protected birds. A Tennessee man was sent to prison for seven months in another bird poisoning case.
    • Service and State officers in Utah recovered nearly 1,000 dead birds near a feedlot and successfully linked the bird die-off to the owner of that facility. The latter eventually admitted using an agricultural insecticide to kill blackbirds.
    • Service intervention prevented a construction company in Honolulu, Hawaii, from destroying a nesting colony of white terns. The company is now coordinating construction work with the birds’ breeding cycle.

    The maximum criminal penalty for an individual violating the Act is a $5000 fine and a six-month jail term for each count (18 U.S.C.571; 16 U.S.C. 707). In the case of United States v. Corbin Farm Services, 444 F. Supp. 510, (E.D. California 1978) the defendants were charged with killing ten American Wigeon (Anas americana) by aerial application of a pesticide. The defendants claimed their actions were not a violation of the Act because poisoning is not expressly forbidden and because they had no intent to kill the birds. The court, however, decided that negligence, not intent, was the key element of the case, and the defendants were fined. The Corbin decision upheld a statute imposing criminal liability for acts without intent to violate where the violator is in a position to prevent the harm and penalties are minor (Cogging and Patti 1979).

    The Court in United States v. Schultze (28 F. Supp. 234) determined that “it was not the intention of Congress to require guilty knowledge or intent to complete the commission of the offense, and that accordingly scienter [knowledge] is not necessary.” The Court in United States versus Schultze found the defendant guilty “even though there was no evidence of any guilty knowledge or intent upon his part at the time of the commission of the offense.”

    Coggins and Patti (1979) summarized the issue by suggesting that for a criminal violation of the Act, the deed: (1) must be purposeful; (2) it must involve some potentially lethal agent; (3) there must be some degree of culpability in the action; and (4) the consequences for bird mortality must be generally foreseeable. The violation may also involve causing direct physical injury to the bird even if the bird is not killed.

    Using the criteria spelled out by Coggins and Patti (1979), it is apparent that the following types of actions would not be considered a violation of the Act: (1) walking down a trail through a forest and causing birds to flush from a tree branch; (2) “pishing” to arouse the attention of birds and draw them closer for observation; (3) stepping from a car or other hiding place and inadvertently causing a flock of birds to flush; and (4) driving a vehicle past a flock of resting birds and causing them to take flight. The best rule of thumb is to use common sense. If you are in doubt about the outcome of your intended action, do not proceed with your plan! In the long run, not only is the image of birders tarnished, but the species for which the law was enacted to protect are further harmed.


    And here is the contact information for US F&WS law enforcement regional offices. Pick the one nearest you.

    Pacific Region (1): California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Trust Territories

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    911 N. E. 11th Avenue
    Portland, Oregon, USA 97232-4171
    Phone:(503)231-6125 Fax:(503)231-6197

    Southwest Region (2): Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    P.O. Box 329
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA 87103
    Phone(505)248-7889 Fax:(505)248-7899

    Great Lakes – Big Rivers Region (3): Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    One Federal Drive
    Fort Snelling, Minnesota, USA 55111-0045
    Phone:(612)713-5320 Fax:(612)713-5283

    Southeast Region (4): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    P.O. Box 49226
    Atlanta, Georgia, USA 30359
    Phone:404)679-7057 Fax:(404)679-7065

    Northeast Region (5): Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia,

    U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    300 Westgate Center Drive
    Hadley, Massachusetts, USA 01035
    Phone:(413)253-8274 Fax:(413)253-8459

    Mountain-Prairie Region (6): Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    P.O. Box 25486 – DFC
    Denver, Colorado, USA 80225
    Phone:(303)236-7540 Fax:(303)236-7901

    Alaska Region (7): Alaska

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    1011 E. Tudor Road, Mail Stop 151
    Anchorage, Alaska, USA 99503-6199
    Phone:(907)786-3311 Fax:(907)786-3313

    Office of Law Enforcement- National Headquarters

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Office of Law Enforcement
    4401 North Fairfax Drive
    Arlington, Virginia, USA 22203
    Phone:(703)358-1949 Fax:(703)358-2271

    I’ve put this information on a static page here so that it will be easy to find for anyone in the future.

  • 2006/04/08 at 11:59 am

    Below is a copy of the email I sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as cc’ed to the USDA. I don’t know if public pressure will help, but I thought it was worth a try. Feel free to borrow from it if you want to send something and aren’t feeling articulate (not that I am!). :-)

    “I was shocked to learn that the USDA improperly made the decision to issue permits to kill two redshouldered hawks in Orange County, at the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort, and that a USDA technician followed through with that task, shooting the mating pair. These were two actively nesting hawks, which have federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the USDA was not the proper authority to make such a decision. It is my understanding that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is the proper authority to evaluate a problem involving birds such as these birds.

    Certainly, a proper analysis by the relevent authority could have yielded a better decision. The birds could have been moved from the site, or the area could have been cordoned off for the duration of the nesting season, the only time when the birds would pose any possible hazard to passers-by. It was not only offensive to kill these birds, but showed gross mismanagement by the USDA and was in violation of their regulatory authority.

    Please address this issue. If the USDA does not understand the boundaries of their authority, then perhaps they should no longer be allowed to issue permits to use lethal methods to address similar situations. At the very least, they should have to receive a consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and it should be your decision how to best proceed. Finally, lethal methods of removing a problem bird or other wildlife should only be used as a last resort when there is no other viable option. That was clearly not the case here.”

  • 2006/04/08 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you, Mahina. That’s exactly the sort of letter they should be getting: an expression of reasoned concern and a call to correct an untenable situation.

  • 2007/03/08 at 12:49 am

    Are you people real? These birds almost blinded two people and attacked others…..what would you do? You know about this because the USDA reported it. You haven’t heard about other cases like this because it was a rare case. A trained biologist made the call. I really wan’t to take a cheap shot at your lack of common sense and disconnectedness to socety.

  • 2007/03/08 at 8:16 pm


    Where are you getting “almost blinded” from? The original newspaper report didn’t say any such thing. The proximal cause of the incident was somebody complaining who was cut on their arm, IIRC.

    No, the USDA didn’t “report” as in “publicize” this. I know about it because of the newspaper report, which discusses what the USDA did. It doesn’t say the USDA did anything at all to make public the action taken in the case.

    As for common sense… red-shouldered hawk, maybe 1 pound of bird, versus humans. On a golf course, so likely not malnourished humans at that. Common sense says… walk around the *other side* of the clubhouse, idiot. It does not say, “I think the 12 gauge is about right for this, Jeeves.”

    I think it is precisely the lack of connectedness to nature that makes this story so compelling. Instead of closing down a safety zone around the nesting birds, the golf course management went down the path of eradicating living hawks who were simply protecting their young in order to make things marginally more convenient for their customers. (“What? Walk around? How gauche.”) Thank goodness I’ve stepped away from connection to that part of society that finds it “common sense” to reach for a shotgun first, foremost, and only in response to any disturbance from nature.

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