Raptors as Vermin: A History of Human Attitudes towards

Pennsylvania's Birds of Prey

Keith L. Bildstein

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, 1700 Hawk Mountain Road, Kempton, Pennsylvania 19529; (610) 756-6000 x235


Many species of raptors (hawks, eagles, and falcons) were considered vermin in Pennsylvania

well into mid-twentieth century. Indeed, as recently as the 1930s and 1940s, even eminent

conservationists were calling for the elimination of so-called harmful birds of prey. Raptors were

unprotected in Pennsylvania throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in 1885 a

50-cent bounty was placed on all species of raptors. Although this particular bounty was repealed

several years later, other bounties on diurnal raptors occurred sporadically until 1951.

Bounties on several species of owls remained in force until 1969. Raptor protection, focusing on

so-called beneficial species, first occurred in 1937. Bird-eating hawks, however, received only

partial protection until 1969, and not all owls were protected until 1972, when the Migratory Bird

Treaty Act of 1918 was amended to include birds of prey. At least part of the change in attitudes

towards raptors can be attributed to activities at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the world's first

refuge for birds of prey, which was founded in Kempton, Pennsylvania, in 1934. Over the past

two decades, populations of Pennsylvania's raptors have rebounded from shooting and pesticide-era

lows of the early and mid-twentieth century. Recently, many hunters and bird watchers in the

state have suggested that populations of raptors may once again be too high. As a result,

Pennsylvania's raptor conservationists again face some of the same human attitudes their predecessors

faced more than a century ago.