Capping pipes can save birds’ lives

JEFFERSON CITY – Do you have a fence with hollow posts made of PVC or metal pipe? What about a metal sign post? Bird experts say these and other open vertical pipes can be death traps for birds and other wildlife.

Wildlife Ecologist Brad Jacobs with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) learned about the problem from Audubon California’s Kern River Preserve.

“They discovered it by accident,” said Jacobs. “Audubon staffers went to remove a 20-foot-long vent pipe that had rusted and fallen over. The lower seven feet of the 8-inch pipe were filled with the decomposed bodies of hundreds of birds and other animals that got inside and couldn’t get out. It was a horrible sight.”

Victims of the irrigation pipe, which had been in place more than 50 years, included bluebirds, woodpeckers and kestrels – small birds of prey. Other animals, such as lizards, also perished.

The death trap was part of an abandoned irrigation system. After the macabre discovery, the Audubon staffers began noticing similar hazards on their preserve and neighboring land. They found dead animals in pipes ranging from 1 to 10 inches in diameter and set to work removing or capping the pipes to prevent further carnage.

Jacobs says he fears that similar hazards exist throughout Missouri.

“It isn’t something we ever considered before,” he said. “But now that we know about it, I think it’s important to let everyone know, so they can take action to prevent needless losses of wildlife.”

Solutions include capping pipes or covering open ends with screen wire or hardware cloth. Removal is an option for pipes that no longer are needed. More information is available at www.ca.audubon.org/workinglands-pipes.php.

Jacobs said anyone, even conservation groups, can unintentionally contribute to such problems. He noted that for several years MDC and Missouri Stream Team have encouraged concerned citizens to construct disposal bins for used fishing line at popular fishing spots. The bins consist of PVC pipe mounted vertically on posts with caps on the bottom and uncapped elbows on top. Anglers can place scrap line in the pipe, preventing it from becoming a hazard to wildlife.

“This was a commendable effort,” said Jacobs. “When it began, no one considered that the recycling bins might be hazards to cavity-nesting birds. However, tree swallows and prothonotary warblers have been found dead and entangled in fishing line inside similar receptacles in other states. The birds apparently explore the plastic tubes as potential nest sites and get tangled up in the used line inside.”

Line-recycling bins can be retrofitted with covers with a slit that still allows insertion of used fishing line without letting birds get inside. The covers are made from tire inner tubes or rubber roof sheeting held in place by pipe clamps. See http://mdc.mo.gov/node/16060/ for details. MDC is refitting all its fishing-line disposal bins.