Why are birds of Prey Important?
Raptors feed at the top of many food chains. Mice, field rats, rabbits, squirrels and other rodents, as well as fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles may have years when their population explodes due to good weather and a surplus of food. This is a common experience with fish, amphibian and even snake populations.
Birds of prey help to balance the size of these populations. Scientists monitor raptor populations carefully because an increase in the number of raptors within an ecosystem is an indicator that another species population is too high. High populations of any one species can destroy the delicate balance in an ecosystem. Birds of prey help keep rodent populations balanced.
Raptors have been called “ecological barometers,” which simply means they help us gauge the health of a habitat. Because raptors are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, higher chemical & pollutant levels can cause their numbers to decrease. This may alert scientists to an impending environmental issue.
Since many of the smaller raptors feed on insects and larger ones prey on rodents, many farmers truly appreciate them. Grasshoppers, cutworms, as well as rabbits and field mice are capable of destroying entire fields of crops if left to reproduce freely without birds of prey to feed on them. The American Kestrel, a smaller falcon, and the Eastern Screech Owl feed on insects that destroy crops. The Great Horned Owl and the Red-tailed Hawk feed on rodents. Controlling pests through this method is called “biological control”. If a farmer can control pests by natural predation, he has no need to use pesticides or insecticides, thus helping protect the environment.
Some of the larger birds of prey, like the Turkey Vulture, feed primarily on carcasses of dead animals. This feeding habit actually helps the environment by getting rid of diseased animals or their carcasses to prevent further spread of any disease the animal was carrying.