Bird Shootings On The Rise
By Greg Seubert
ANTIGO – It’s a trend that Marge Gibson has noticed in her 30 years of running her wildlife rehabilitation center near Antigo.
And it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Raptor Education Group Inc. cares for as many as 1,000 birds a year. Some of their injuries are the result of a vehicle collision.
Others, like an osprey found in early April in Oconto County, had been shot and left to die.
“We’re getting more and it’s increasing rapidly, unfortunately,” Gibson said. “We are shocked at how rapidly it’s increasing and it’s almost becoming a video game. “We’ve had several eagles this year as well, which is incredibly frustrating. I think it’s people that have low self-esteem. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re just out trying to make themselves big. These aren’t game. They’re federally protected, which makes it really bad.”
DNR conservation warden Paul Hartrick is investigating the case the osprey, which Gibson’s staff eventually had to put down.
“Good hunters are conservationists and people like this give hunting a really bad name,” she said. “When I post on our Facebook page that an osprey has been shot, people come back and say, ‘I hate hunters,’ but these aren’t hunted animals. This isn’t a shooter. This is an idiot with a gun and it’s very different than a hunter. Sometimes, I think it’s people that don’t have anything better to do. We’ve heard of people in trucks driving up and down roads. What sits still enough for them to shoot?”
Shooting Cases Up
Gibson has noticed an increase in shooting cases involving birds.
“There are many more than there used to be,” she said. “It’s songbirds. It’s nighthawks that eat a thousand mosquitoes a night. Why on earth would someone shoot at them? It’s something that doesn’t make any sense at all. Hunters hunt and they often feed their families with their harvested animals. My father hunted and fished and I grew up that way, but he had strong ethics, as many hunters do. People like this see themselves as bigger and stronger because they have a gun and they can be powerful over something innocent that is not going to fight back.
“It’s somebody that needs to kill something so he feels more powerful,” she added. “In fact, what he’s doing is making himself look incredibly weak and he’s giving a really bad name to people who are ethical. We get swans every year that get shot. It’s not a mistake like, ‘Oh my gosh, I was duck hunting.’”
Many cases remain unsolved, even though the DNR has a tipline – 800-TIP-WDNR – so people can leave information and remain anonymous.
“People either don’t call or if they do, they want to remain anonymous and it’s very hard for a warden to charge somebody on an anonymous tip,” Gibson said. “You have to have evidence to charge people with something. They analyze the bullets and do things like that, but they almost have to have more than that. It becomes kind of a difficult situation. People hide information. Somebody knows who’s driving around with a high-powered rifle shooting things. Somebody knows. Whether it’s your kid, your grandkid or your cousin’s kid, they need to be reported. When you start shooting and killing animals, you graduate to bigger things.
“I think we as a society need to be concerned and don’t give them a free pass and say, ‘Oh, they’re just kids,’” she said. “You know what? Kids shouldn’t have a high-powered rifle in their possession. It’s time to start speaking up. So what if they’re angry? They’ve done something stupid and illegal.”
Hunters need to report suspected violators, according to Gibson.
“If you’re a hunter and you know of somebody who’s doing this stuff, report them and make sure that they get their gun taken away for a while and make them go through some sort of class,” she said. “If it’s a kid we should all be really worried because that’s an act of hate, an act of aggression. It’s not hunting. It’s actually kind of spitting on hunting.”
Gibson can’t understand why anyone would shoot a bald eagle, osprey, swan or loon, all federally protected species.
“These are the people who do horrendous things when they get older,” she said. “They like the feeling of killing. Hunting might be too hard for them. It’s easy. You don’t have to go out in the cold, you just shoot anything that you come upon. People have to realize that the kid that shot at that swan meant to and it wasn’t an isolated thing. We’re seeing much more of it. It’s a disturbing trend. It’s going to take the public speaking up, caring and wanting to making a difference.”
Besides caring for injured birds, Gibson’s nonprofit center also has to deal with the expense.
“We’re also stuck with the bills,” she said. “We try very hard to save them and in many cases we do, but it’s a costly endeavor. We care for about 900 to 1,000 patients a year. We pick up the tab for peoples’ stupidity. That’s exactly what it is.”
* Greg Seubert is the sports editor of three Multi Media Channels publications: Waupaca County Post, New London Press Star and Clintonville Tribune-Gazette.