The Strange Case of Dump Hunting Raptors

Burned Birds Lead to Better Ways to Use Methane Gas

by Andrew Steffel, age 19

Landfills attract many types of animals. Rodents and small birds come to these places to find food. Raptors or birds of prey are attracted to the dumps by the large amount of rodents. Since one raptor can eat 1,800 rodents a year, these birds of prey help control the rodent population.

Unfortunately, raptors looking for a quick meal can get burned by the landfill’s methane burners.

A landfill’s methane burner can ignite when a buildup of methane gas occurs. Raptors, which hunt while in the air, perch on the burners to rest and watch. When the burners ignite, they get burned. Most do not survive. But some, if found early enough, can be rehabilitated and released.

This problem has been going on for a long time in many places across the country. Regulations at the landfills prohibit anything that can interfere with the flow and burning of methane. Some landfills have placed spikes on the burners to deter birds from landing on them. This tactic doesn’t affect the function of the burners.

Another solution to the problem is to place a higher pole than the burners for the birds to perch on. But this solution solves only the problem of perching birds, and some birds are still killed when flying over the burners. In an effort to solve both of these problems, some communities are using the methane to create electricity. This strategy is only cost effective in the case of larger landfills.

Solutions for the various problems associated with landfills are sometimes difficult to solve. But a number of communities have developed ways to protect raptors and other birds from the dangers of landfills.

[Sources: Wisconsin Natural Resources; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]