Astute viewers of Raptor Cam will note the large plastic bag in the nest. It is not known whether it blew in or whether the adults carried it into the nest. Many of you will recall that there was a plastic bag in the nest throughout the 2010 nesting season. The hawks at times placed it under and over the eggs. They buried it in the nest and dug it up again. The young played with it and later practices attacking it. In 2009 the hawks had a bicycle inner tube in the nest (what could be more Portland than hawks with bike inner tubes!) that they also manipulated throughout the entire nesting season. In fact a significant portion of the nest is compose of human garbage. It is hard to see on camera, but there is all kinds of sting, cord, rubber, plastic, paper, etc woven into this nest. Birds will use whatever they can find...and often what they can find is the garbage that we leave around to litter the landscape.
Last year many viewers wanted to know whether we would go in and remove the bag. The answer is "no." Going in and removing the bag could cause nest failure at this stage. Interfering with the active nest is far more risky than leaving the birds to deal with the bag. Besides, the bag is only the tip of the iceberg---it may be the most visible garbage to viewers but it is not necessarily the most dangerous--I would be just as worried about the string and chord that is throughout the nest. Besides given the sudden appearance of a bag in the nest at the onset of egg laying in 2010 and 2011, it may well be the case that she is intentionally bringing the bags to the nest.
This is not to say however that the bag is not a problem. It could trap water in the nest. The young could become tangled in the bag. The young could even ingest portions of the bag. The impact of plastics on wildlife is a rapidly growing cause for concern.
Plastic breaks down into small particles that last for thousands of years. It is increasingly recognized as a significant hazard to birds locally and around the world. Wild birds ingest small plastic particles which eventually clog their crops and digestive tracts resulting in starvation and death. The arrival of birds suffering from plastic related starvation has become a common occurrence at Oregon's coastal wildlife rehabilitation centers. While the problem is most acute in seabirds which ingest plastic particles as they attempt to feed on plankton, it is also recognized as an increased threat to land birds as well. A recent report on California Condor recovery in produced by California Audubon identified "microtrash" ingestion, more than 1/3 of which was comprised of plastics, as a significant impediment to Condor recovery. As this breaks down it will contribute to the massive load of small plastic particles that are increasingly covering our landscapes and filling our oceans.
There have been attempts in recent years to ban plastic grocery bags, both by the City of Portland and the State of Oregon. Senator Mark Haas has made it a priority in this legislative session to pass a ban on single use plastic grocery bags.. Using reusable cloth bags when we shop is something we can all do to help wildlife and the environment.
For more information on the plastic bag issue, check out Surfriders Website or check out these KGW stories:
To learn more about Plastic in our oceans, vist the 5 Gyres Project
Some shots of garbage in the nest from recent years: