Cover Your Pipes!

I prefer to write my own posts, but when I saw this article from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds, I had to share it with you. I had no idea that open pipes were such a hazard to birds and other wildlife!

Death by Pipe: Birds in Crisis

Bird carcasses recovered from mining claim pipes in Searchlight, NV. Photo: Christy Klinger, Nevada Dept. of Wildlife.

Bird carcasses recovered from mining claim pipes in Searchlight, NV. Photo: Christy Klinger, Nevada Dept. of Wildlife

Trapped in a small space, unable to move, with no food or water, slowing dying of stress, starvation, or dehydration; most of us can’t imagine a less appealing end. Unfortunately, this is the reality for hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of birds and other animals each year. Recent inspection of open or uncapped pipes has uncovered a grisly secret: countless bird and other animal carcasses collecting inside. Open or uncapped vertical pipes pose a very real hazard to wildlife, especially birds.

Cavity nesting birds, such as flycatchers, bluebirds, and woodpeckers build their nests in holes, usually within trees or embankments. From the air, an open vertical pipe resembles a cavity suitable for nesting.

Western Screech-owl recovered from a pipe. Photo: Christy Klinger, Nevada Dept. of Wildlife.

Western Screech-owl recovered from a pipe. Photo: Christy Klinger, Nevada Dept. of Wildlife.

A bird flies in, looking for a place to build a nest. The tight confines of the pipe prevent the bird from extending its wings to fly, the smooth circular interior is impossible to climb. Trapped in a small space with no food or water, the bird struggles until it slowly dies of stress, starvation, or dehydration. Another bird flies into the hole, and the cycle continues.

Impacts to Wildlife

Cavity nesters are not the only victims of these pipes.

The remains of a Northern Flicker, a fence lizard, and unidentified bones at the bottom of a pipe. Photo: Jeff King.

The remains of a Northern Flicker, a fence lizard, and unidentified bones at the bottom of a pipe. Photo: Jeff King.

Migrating birds may seek shelter from the elements in hollow pipes or attempt to perch on them. According to Audubon California, nearly 45 different species of birds have been recovered from open pipes. Bird species commonly trapped include flycatchers, bluebirds, woodpeckers, sparrows, shrikes, kestrels, and even owls.

In addition to birds, lizards, snakes, small mammals, and insects have also been found inside pipes. In 2009, Audubon California removed a 20-foot tall pipe from and abandoned irrigation system. In place for 50 years, the pipe yielded the carcasses of hundreds of birds and other animals, including kestrels, flickers, bluebirds, and fence lizards.

Pipes on the Landscape
Audubon California has found that open vertical pipes are commonly used as sign posts, fence posts, survey markers, building plumbing vents, in irrigation systems, and chimneys, and it is easy to find them in both urban and rural areas. There are often open pipes on top of residential and commercial buildings. California state law prohibits open-topped pipes from being used as mining claim markers, but open PVC pipes are often unlawfully used.

Cover Your Pipes!
There is a simple solution to this problem: cover open pipes! By capping or covering open pipes, birds, snakes, and other animals are prevented from becoming trapped. Inspect your property, identify all open vertical pipes, and close them off. The cap or cover does not have to be expensive, but it does need to be secure and not easily dislodged by the wind or other disturbance. Pipe caps may be purchased or covers can be easily constructed. For example, a simple cement cap can be placed on an open vertical pipe.

For pipes that are in place to vent air or gas, screens can be used to prevent entry. Open pipes can also be filled with rocks or sand.

Remove Derelict Pipes
Removal of open pipes is another solution to the problem, but it is important that the landowner and the purpose of the pipe be identified prior to removal. If the landowner is willing, then removal is an easy way to reduce pipe-related mortalities.

Spread the Word
Many people do not realize the hazards that open pipes pose to birds and other wildlife. Education is often the best prevention. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Audubon California, and the American Bird Conservancy all have ongoing outreach efforts to inform the public of the hazards of open pipes to wildlife and have facilitated pipe removal on public lands.

Reach out to your community. Please share this information with your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. Encourage others to inspect their personal or commercial holdings for open pipes. Participate in coordinated volunteer efforts to remove or cover open pipes in your area. Let’s work together to keep our landscape free of open pipes to prevent the untimely death of migratory birds and other wildlife.

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One Response to Cover Your Pipes!

  1. Pingback: Rescuing Baby Birds | Mountain Plover

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