Ruffling feathers

ROARING SPRING – Over the past two weeks, as March temperatures warmed Spring Dam Park, melting snow has revealed evidence of a strange crime: Someone is killing ducks in Roaring Spring.

Sharpened wooden sticks, steel blowgun darts and 28-inch arrows still lie scattered throughout the park. They’re already responsible for at least three duck deaths and two woundings, both sure to be mortal, Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Albert Zellner said Tuesday.

Bird-watchers reported the crime over two weeks ago, Zellner said, after they found the first dead birds with dart and arrow wounds. Since then, the attacks have continued “more regularly than not” at the borough’s popular spring, where local domestic birds and federally protected migratory species mingle throughout the year.

“There’s a couple still out there with arrows in them,” said Zellner, who oversees southern Blair County for the commission. “You put an arrow through a duck, that bird’s going to die.”

Holding one of the several-inch-long darts Saturday, Zellner noted that the weapons pose a risk both to animals and to human visitors, who could be stabbed if they sit or fall in the grass. A nearby group of bird-watchers, some equipped with digital cameras and powerful lenses, promised to apprehend and deliver the perpetrators if they find them.

Roaring Spring has long been a gathering place for ducks, with its fish-stocked pond serving as one of a few local spots open through much of winter. Tame domesticated crossbreeds interact with mallards, wigeons and even seaside species normally seen only in New England, Zellner said.

Migrating birds stop there on their way north and south, sometimes overstaying their welcome thanks to local overfeeding, he said. As many as 200 ducks might gather there some days.

The recent attacks, however, have reduced the ducks’ numbers: Primarily targeting the slower-moving, more easygoing local ducks, the arrow attacks had left at least three dead as of Tuesday, Zellner said. Those left wounded and unable to fly will eventually fall prey to free-roaming dogs and cats, he said.

Roaring Spring police first learned of the attacks over the weekend, Lt. Greg Wyandt said. It’s not the first time criminals have targeted the birds – locals sometimes snatch them away – but he can’t recall violent attacks like those in recent weeks, he said.

“People do stupid stuff to them,” Wyandt said. If the attackers are caught, police could charge them with cruelty to animals, he said.

While borough police hold jurisdiction over the park, migratory birds fall under Game Commission authority and carry federal legal protections, Zellner and Wyandt noted.

Under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, attempts to hunt, pursue or kill migratory birds are illegal unless otherwise specifically permitted by law. Violations can yield up to six months’ jail time and thousands of dollars in fines, according to the U.S. Code.

Zellner said he’s gathered “quite a collection” of the darts and arrows, keeping them on hand as evidence if the perpetrators are identified. The attackers are probably local, he said, comparing them to teenage vandals who smash mailboxes at night.

“It’s still under investigation. People see everything,” he said. “In a small town, everyone knows you.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.