Second hawk since Feb. 7 felled by gunfire in Brazos County

Red-tailed hawk

A red-tailed hawk was shot illegally in Brazos County this week, prompting a rehabilitation center to euthanize the protected species Tuesday.

Brazos County’s game warden found the wounded bird Monday in the backyard of a home along OSR. It is not known who shot the raptor, said Charli Rohack, director of Eyes of Texas Wildlife Rescue.

The shooting marked the second time this month authorities found a protected hawk hurt by gunfire.

“In this particular case, there were no witnesses,” Rohack said of the Monday shooting. “People shoot at these things all the time when they think they’re protecting their farm animals. It’s all highly illegal.”

The reason for the shooting probably had to do with the fact that some residents keep chickens in the area where the raptor was found, she said. The red-tailed hawk often is referred to as the “chicken hawk” because of the belief that it feeds on poultry.

But the raptor’s nickname can be misleading, according to several bird-oriented organizations. Up to 90 percent of the bird’s diet consists of small rodents, lizards, snakes and rabbits, while pheasant is a main course during certain seasons, according to online magazine DesertUSA.

Chicken killing, on the other hand, is a “rare occurrence” for the species, the Web site states in a profile of the bird.

Eyes of Texas receives about five raptors a year that have been definitely shot, and roughly 10 to 15 others with suspicious injuries that might be gunshot wounds, Rohack said.

“I know that it’s common,” she said Tuesday. “There’s probably a lot of birds out there that are shot that we don’t get.”

The rehabilitation center received a hawk Feb. 7, after police responded to a call that someone shot the bird off a telephone line. Bryan resident Eugene Ortiz Acosta was cited for possession of a protected species after officers found the wounded bird caged in his garage. Acosta also was arrested after the officers found stolen street signs at the North Parker Avenue home, police said.

The 40-year-old said he caged the bird because he wanted to mount it on the wall with his collection after it died. Police confiscated a .22-caliber rifle as evidence, according to court documents.

The bird, which has been sent to a rehabilitation center in Bellville, is expected to be released back into the wild after about three months of rehabilitation, Rohack said.

Rohack blames malice for some of the shootings, but ignorance also is a problem, she said, explaining that many people don’t realize laws exist to protect the birds.

All songbirds and raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Tampering with nests and collecting feathers from the birds also is prohibited under federal law.

Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $500 and six months in jail, according to the Federal Wildlife Laws Handbook. In addition, all guns and other equipment used in the shooting can be confiscated.

Harming eagles, which also are native to the area, can result in fines of up to $250,000, according to the Eagle Protection Act.

Residents who spot injured, sick or orphaned birds of prey can alert Eyes of Texas by calling 979-822-3816, Rohack said Tuesday. If a mammal or song bird is found, call 979-255-1650.

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