R.I.P “Dart Raven” (or, why the Migratory Bird Act still matters)

Dart Raven
Raven with blow dart through its head. Image credit: Jaqueline Androsko

Hello readers,

Over the past few months, downtown Juneau has hosted a peculiar specimen of animal cruelty: an adult raven with a blow dart in its head, still alive. Efforts to catch the raven and remove the dart have failed, as it has (understandably) avoided capture.

In the interest of the bird’s health, and to prevent predators from ingesting the dart, Animal Control officials finally caught the bird earlier this week and euthanized the raven. This story has been picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in several newspapers throughout the state, and in the Lower 48.

Having seen this bird firsthand, and having submitted a report to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game a few months ago, I was taken aback by this cruel act. Ravens, in addition to their importance to Alaska Natives, are protected birds under the 101-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Passed by Congress in 1918, this Treaty provided a progressive conservation measure to protect birds that were in danger of extinction due to the demand for ornate plumage in women’s hats.

Illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper that depicts a hunter shooting at a bird and leaving behind baby birds in a nest, next to a taxidermist in his studio preparing the dead birds, and beneath that an illustration of a fashionable young woman wearing a hat with two dead birds, with a caption that reads: "The cruelties of fashion-- fine feathers make fine birds."
Hyde, John N., Artist. The cruelties of fashion – “fine feathers make fine birds” / Hyde. , 1883. New York: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014645364/.

Although ravens do not migrate, the Treaty was amended in 1972 to extend protections to corvids, which brought the total number of birds protected to 1,026—nearly every native bird species in the United States. This means that those who kill protected birds are subject to hefty fines. In 2016, authorities imposed a fine of $1,125 to one Fairbanks resident who pleaded guilty to killing multiple ravens simply because he saw them as a nuisance.

Migratory bird act
Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 20 May 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1921-05-20/ed-1/seq-3/>

Unfortunately, bringing offenders to justice is difficult. One would hope that the widespread attention given to “dart raven” draws awareness to the protections surrounding these iconic birds.

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