by Cheron Ferland, Wildlife Biologist, US Forest Service
It was several years ago that I first heard about a particular wildlife conflict—one which I assumed occurred infrequently. I saw a photo of a Saw-whet Owl standing in the bottom of a recreation toilet—yep, down in the nasty slurry. By recreation toilet, I mean the ones that you find in national forest and national park trailheads and campgrounds. Somehow that owl was rescued from the unsavory environment. I have retrieved many distressed raptors in my day, but thankfully have never had to execute that type of retrieval. At the time, my impression of the situation was that it was probably very unusual and unlikely. Then I heard about a Barn Owl showing up in another recreation toilet, and a duck in another. And then I read an article called Bird Death Pipes by California Audubon that documented the deaths of 200 birds that were found in one 6” wide x 10’ tall pipe! LCAS President Maeve Sowles highlighted this very issue in her From Our President column in the April 2012 issue of The Quail.
So as I thought about it more, I realized that wildlife—not just birds, but also reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals—view hollow pipes as potential nesting sites or sources of refuge. They are often curious or seeking shelter or nest sites, and once they enter an open pipe, it is often impossible for them to get out.