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Raptor Burns from Landfill Methane Burners

by Gary Siftar

Oklahoma Raptor Center

Broken Arrow, OK

 

Summary

 

Solid waste landfills (a.k.a. sanitary landfills) contain organic matter that produces Landfill Gas (LFG) primarily composed of Methane (CH4) during decomposition. Landfills dispose of this gas in "Methane Burners", typically tall round structures or smokestacks.

Active landfills often have an abundance of rats and mice, which are an excellent food source for various raptors. The nature of a landfill produces a treeless landscape. The height of the burner stack it makes an attractive perch for raptors waiting for rodents and other prey.

The burners have an igniter that causes a sudden flare, which can scorch or even kill anything perched on top, flying overhead or actually inside.

Typically closed landfills are a low traffic area, so it is believed only a low percentage of burned raptors are rescued, and most die due to starvation or predation.

This is a nationwide problem that those in the rehabilitation community are aware of but that has not yet become commonly known by the general public.

There are also other sources of such burn hazards.

Power generation facilities have tall smokestacks that attract raptors.

Oil and gas production facilities utilize what are called “heater treaters” which are used to make and transfer or apply heat to the natural gas that is produced from production wells. In this situation dead birds have been found inside the equipment. Some are burned, and some die because they cannot fly out or they are asphyxiated.

Some possible remediation methods are to add structures or devices to deny perching, or possibly covering the stack, or providing  alternate perch locations, such as a taller telephone pole.

 

Background

 

Landfills, also known as dumps, can be sources of various environmental hazards, and often have a negative impact on wildlife.  Some of the more common issues are caused by: 1

 

  • Six-pack rings which can cause strangulation

  • Plastic wrap that can cause fatal intestinal blockage

  • Discarded fishing line, more often found in lakes and ponds that can wrap around various body parts and cut off circulation often leading to amputation.

 

Solid waste landfills (aka. sanitary landfills) contain organic matter that produces Landfill Gas (LFG) primarily composed of Methane (CH4 ) during decomposition.  Further, active landfills often have an abundance of rats and mice, which are an excellent food source for various raptors.

 

Landfill gas can be a threat to human health and contributes in a small way to global warming.  Flaring or utilizing the Methane for energy greatly reduces its climate change impact, eliminates an explosive hazard, and can reduce harmful chemicals by incineration. 2

 

Perhaps there will be more emphasis in the future to get useful energy from the methane rather than wasteful burning it in stacks.  There are many other industrial uses where a gas is burned in a stack, however this paper is primarily about landfill methane burners.

 

Burner pictured is 12 ft (3.6 m) in Diameter and 60 ft (18.3 m) High

 

Impact on Raptors

 

The nature of the landfill produces a treeless landscape.  Because of the height of the burner stack it makes an attractive perch for raptors waiting for rodents and other prey.

The burners have an igniter that causes a sudden flare, which can scorch or even kill anything perched on top, flying overhead or actually inside.

 

This paper is meant for general awareness of the methane burner issue and to solicit information from other rehabilitators who have received burned birds or bats, in order to prevent future injuries and deaths.

 

 

 


This Red-Tailed Hawk (RTHA) came in with a right wing burn, and we received another  from the same landfill the next day with the left wing burned.


[j1] 

Singed Feather Close-up

 

Typically closed landfills are a low traffic area, so it is believed only a low percentage of burned raptors are rescued.  It is believed most die due to starvation or predation.   Because the US Fish and Wildlife Service has no statistics on the issue, a national effort towards remediation is not expected at this time.

 

The author has contacted several prominent rehabilitators who are aware of the issue and have also received raptors burned by landfill methane burners.   One center indicated they had received red-tailed hawks (RTHA), American kestrels (AMKE), great-horned owls (GHOW), and red-shouldered hawks (RSHA); all apparent methane burner victims.

 

The actual size and scope of the problem is not known at this time. Further it is unknown if the problem is greater in certain geographical areas or if only certain types of methane burners or landfill types are more prone to the problem. We are in need data and facts.

 

Treatment Protocol

 

The standard protocol is to allow naturally occurring molting. It is generally understood that because of the risk of severe feather follicle damage predator species should not have feathers plucked to accelerate new feather growth.  Severe follicle damage could result in permanent loss of the follicle 3. This means if you receive a raptor that molted last month you may have it 11 months before it re-grows the feathers and can be released. In the cases we have seen the author feels the damaged feather quantity too high for imping.

 

Other burn sources

 

“Oil and gas production facilities that utilize what are called ‘heater treaters’ which are used to make and transfer/apply heat to the natural gas that is produced from production wells.  In this situation dead birds have been found inside the equipment --- it is believed that the birds enter through the stack and other openings on a heater-treater and they likely die because they cannot fly out or they are asphyxiated.” 4.

 

Remediation

 

It is hoped that we can get some remediation implemented to prevent or at least lessen occurrences of these burn injuries. Current suggestions are:

 

  • Deny perching by use of stainless steel bird spikes (polycarbonate would burn/melt) and implementing alternative perching attached to the stack.

  • Deny perching by use of stainless steel bird spikes and implementing alternative perching away from the stack, e.g. a telephone pole, taller than the stack.

  • Stack covers (various designs) that would reduce perching and prevent possible fly-over burning

 


Picture above represents installation of stainless steel bird spikes on rim of burner and affixing a lowered perch rail below the flame area.  Also illustrated, above, is an alternative perch placed on telephone poles that is both higher and away from the burner stack.

 

 The author is specifically requesting from the rehabilitation community, the following information:

 

  • Quantity, species and date/time frame of intake of burned raptors, as well as how long you had to keep it and any procedure (e.g. imped three primary feathers)

  • Whether you have received any burned raptors that had to be euthanized, and the ratio of released, non-releasable, and euthanized.

  • Geographic area of landfill, and distance the rehabilitator is from the landfill.

  • Photographs of burned birds (or bats). It will be easier to convince with hard evidence.

  • Photographs of a variety of landfill methane burners, and if you believe the particular burner photographed has injured a bird or bat. Of particular interest would be of a dusk photograph of a burner actually flaming.

  • Photographs and/or description of any remediation observed or implemented, and if it is felt to be successful.  Also any problems with a particular remediation attempt.

  • Any other information that will lead to a better understanding of the issue, as well as useful statistics or remediation ideas.

  • Other industrial sources of burned raptors you have treated.

 

 

The author solicits e-mails to be sent to: okraptors@hotmail.com

 

Please include your complete contact information for follow-up.

 

 

 

Citations

 

1Noyes, K (2006) Clean-Up Your Trash, Charity Guide http://www.charityguide.org/volunteer/fifteen/trash.htm

 

2Joe E. Heimlich  Ohio State University Fact Sheet – Landfill

http://ohioline.osu.edu/cd-fact/0111.html

 

3 Carolina Raptor Center et al: http://www.carolinaraptorcenter.org/rescue_faq.php

 

4 USFWS Regional Biologist

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2013 Tulsa Audubon Society
Last modified: March 14, 2017

 

 

 

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