Cohort Connections: The Raptor Protection Program

Submitted by Tori West (Cohort 3), October 2020

So many people loved my husband’s photo of the fire and the owl on the telephone pole in the last newsletter and on Facebook, that I began thinking it would be nice to share a story about that pole, another pole on our property, photographs, and a wonderful connection made on my journey to become a master naturalist. 

As we all know, a large part of the AZMN program is learning how to work together in groups.  I met the members of my first Cohort 4 group in mid-February and was very happy with the people I would be working with on our first field lab and assignments!  As we talked a bit and got to know each other I asked one of our members, Starlight Noel-Armenta, about her job.  She said she investigated power poles to find out if they were safe for raptors and provided the information to Tucson Electric Power (TEP) so the poles could be properly insulated.  I was really interested in this as my husband and I spend a great deal of time enjoying the wide variety of wildlife that entertains us on the poles we have on and near our property.  I can honestly say it never occurred to me that the poles weren’t safe, because although many years ago I had heard that power poles could kill wildlife, I thought the poles had to have some worn out or faulty wiring to be dangerous and the electric and phone companies had already taken care of this. I suppose I didn’t put a lot of time in to thinking about the fact that all of the old ones needed to be modified.

We not only enjoy watching wildlife in our area, we like to take photographs when we are able.  My husband, Steve Weller, has become particularly good at this, so the day after my conversation with Starlight, I sent her the following photos and asked if she could tell from these close-ups whether or not our birds were in danger.

As you can see, we have quite the variety of pole visitors.  Six hawks on one pole is not an unusual sight, and sometimes there is an additional group on the pole next in line!

Starlight could tell from the photos that our lines needed insulation.  I told her where I had seen hawks nesting not far from me, so she made a trip out my way to scope out the area checking for poles in need of work and looking for nest sites.  Although she didn’t find any nest sites, she did mark 5 poles along that line that needed modifications and submitted her report to TEP.

TEP has many poles to attend to, so we had no idea when the modifications would be made but were glad that it would be taken care of as soon as they could arrange it.

On May 20th, coincidentally the day after I attended the “Unlovable Vultures” presentation from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, we woke to find this beauty on the pole.

We weren’t sure if the poles had been insulated or not, but later that same day Steve took these photos

I am so thankful for getting to meet Starlight in Cohort 4, and for her help in making our favorite bird viewing posts even more enjoyable knowing that the birds are safe!

Here is some more information Starlight provided about the details of her work and the TEP Raptor Protection Program. 

The Raptor Protection Program is a collaborative effort between the University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power Company which is designed to reduce the number of hawks and owls electrocuted on Tucson’s overhead distribution system.  The program began over 20 years ago when it was discovered that the social breeding system of Harris’s hawks nesting in Tucson was being negatively affected by the electrocution of key members of breeding groups.

Starlight works in the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment, under the supervision of Dr. Bill Mannan.  Dr. Mannan’s research has focused on the effects of urbanization on the population dynamics of predatory birds.  Research projects done by his past graduate students have been key drivers in the initiation and development of the Raptor Protection Program.

(As a side note, Steve has found another avenue for some of his photos due to another of my cohort 4 team members, Rebecca Lipson, who started the Tucson Neighborhood Naturalist project on iNaturalist!)

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