Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When Next, the Mallards and Trees?

The mallards and other birds are on the move over Manhattan these days -- well, with the notable exception of course, of Canada geese.
Yesterday, I headed over to Central Park around dusk -- one of the times of day birds are most active.
There was a group of migratory mallards resting on the waters of the Reservoir and even more mallards flying overhead.
There were also two helicopters hovering in the skies over the Reservoir, making such loud racket that joggers slowed in their tracks to look up.
I stood for a while gazing up at the unusual and copter-noisy scene.
The two copters didn't move very much. Rather, they seemed to be stationery in the sky, as if intently monitoring something.
Meanwhile, mallards (and perhaps a few other birds) were flying somewhat haphazardly with no definitive patterns.   A few groups and loners flew low over the Reservoir, while others traveled very high in the sky with some seeming destination in mind.
I thought to myself skeptically that its just a matter of time before a similar "war" as has been waged against Canada geese will also be conducted against mallards.
Like geese, mallards are considered a "game" target for hunters and it has recently been rumored that mallards, like geese, are soon to be proclaimed a "pest" and "invasive" species.
A high official with the USDA referred to mallards as "freeloaders."
Of course, mallards are smaller than geese and it is improbable that one mallard alone could take down a plane.  But, certainly a group of them being swept into plane engines *could* pose a "threat."  And mallards, like geese, usually fly in skeins.
From my personal observances, mallards fly around a great deal more than geese, sometimes, it seems, just for the fun of it.
And so yes, one could easily imagine the "plan" being hatched for mallards from the offices of our nation's Capitol (Dept of Interior) to state offices of "Wildlife Services" to management offices of individual parks.
Certainly, the labeling of anything as a "pest" or "invasive species" opens the doors for all kinds of harassment, "expanded hunting" and eradication programs.
While we never want to see a favorite hunting target go extinct (and take great measures to prevent that), it seems nor do we want these animals in areas of heavy human use -- such as public parks or urban landscapes.
What could be the justifications to embark on a war against mallards?
Virtually, the same as already used against geese.  "Too many."  "Threat to airliners." "Messy."  
Or, maybe that mallards get in the way of fisherman or quack too much.
What worked for one species of bird will surely work with another.
Mallards, like geese molt and become flightless for a few weeks in the summer. (In fact, it was speculated that a number of mallards were rounded up with the geese at Prospect Park in the summer of 2010, though it has been difficult to get confirmation of that.) 
We do know that for some time public parks have regularly trapped and rounded up raccoons and delivered them to Animal Control for "euthanasia." 
Two years ago, almost all the raccoons were rounded up from Central Park.  At the time, the justification was "rabies" and rabies warnings were posted all over the park.
However, one has to wonder if rabies was a legitimate scourge among the raccoons in Central Park shouldn't the park have been closed to human traffic until every last raccoon was captured?  Rabies is, after all a fatal disease to humans if attacked and bitten by a rabid animal.
Two years ago, a park ranger told me that rabbits one time used to live in Central Park.  She speculated that peoples' dogs killed off all the rabbits.
But, I truly doubt that.
Rather, I believe that either some people complained about the rabbits getting into picnic baskets or some official in an office somewhere proclaimed the rabbits to be "invasive" and measures were then taken to get rid of them.
We know red tail hawks were placed in Central Park several years ago to help "get rid of" pigeons.  (The hawks have reportedly also taken out a few tiny dogs, but oh well.)
All of these thoughts flittered in my mind yesterday when noting the helicopters and the mallards seemingly competing for air space over the Reservoir (though I presume the Helicopters were either monitoring some human activity or providing sightseeing for tourists).
It also occurred that goose harassment companies in NYC will soon be out of business -- unless another waterfowl species can be provided for the dogs to harass and their contracts to be fulfilled.  Right now, the only plentiful waterfowl species in certain areas of Central Park are mallards.
From the Reservoir, I again walked with my dogs, north to Harlem Meer.
Unlike last Friday when a pair of mated Canada geese were spotted on the lake, there were no geese at all last night.
While it might be tempting to blame the disappearance of Friday's two geese to "goose harassment" I believe the two migratory geese simply departed because there were no other geese at the Meer to gather and hook up with prior to southern migrations.
As the sun set, several groups of mallards took off from the lake either as part of normal migration patterns or because they roost somewhere else at night.
Numerous ducks remained.
After checking on Brad and the "regulars" (ducks) at the Meer, I eventually left.
I looked around for the couple of raccoons I used to see at night around the Meer, but I haven't seen them in almost a month now.
I wondered if "rabies" is again rampant in the park or did some people simply complain about being scared of the "rabid" raccoons?
Walking home through the North Meadow, I once again noted airliners flying low over the park and lots of Autumn leaves starting to drift to the ground.
I wondered (once again) when we will declare a "war on trees?"
Trees, after all, are actually far more destructive to human life and activities than geese.
Falling trees during storms take down power lines, destroy human homes and cars and quite frequently even kill people.
And surely trees create a real "mess" in the fall with all those billions of leaves we have to rake up.
Perhaps after the geese, raccoons, pigeons and mallards, trees will eventually follow on our agenda of destruction for human "safety and convenience?" 
In the words of one USDA official, "I would cut down all the trees were that my decision to make."
Well then, let's start chopping.
If any geese are to survive our continuing onslaughts on them, tree-empty parks will provide favorable habitat for them to rebound.  -- PCA

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