Editor’s note: This article was updated to include information from Alaska Wildlife Troopers regarding the legality of using blowguns and darts to hunt small game.
Two Steller’s jays trying to fatten up for the winter almost met an early end last week. Someone in downtown Homer shot the bright-blue birds with 6-inch barbed, steel blowgun darts. In one bird, the dart went through its chest and in another the dart hit its neck. Both darts have bright orange cones on the end and got stuck in the birds.
“It was sickening to see those guys come every day with those things sticking out,” said Dr. Ralph Broshes, a retired Homer veterinarian.
Broshes has seen the birds feeding in his yard since early August near the Homer Veterinary Clinic on Woodside Avenue off Pioneer Avenue. Last Friday Broshes caught the birds in a kennel. With the help of Dr. Dots Sherwood, the veterinarian who now owns Broshes’ former clinic, Broshes removed the darts.
Broshes had to use bolt cutters to cut off the barbed end. One dart slipped out easy, but in the second bird, the vets had to sedate the Steller’s jay because the dart had gone deeper in its back.
Broshes cleaned and treated the wounds and put antibiotic cream on the injuries. After surgery, both birds could fly and walk.
“It appears they’re going to be all right,” Broshes said.
The darts appear to be similar to those used in the Big Bore brand blowgun, sold by Cabela’s and Bass Pro in Anchorage as well as by other retailers. The Big Bore blowgun is a long black tube about 5-feet long that looks like a walking stick. Darts go inside the tube and the shooter blows in the tube to propel the darts.
Steller’s jays are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, said Andrea Medeiros, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage. That act prohibits taking any bird protected under the act. U.S. Fish and Wildlife enforces the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Broshes said he spoke with Fish and Wildlife officials at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge about the darted jays.
Under Alaska game laws, unless specifically prohibited by law, there is there is nothing that prohibits the use of a blow dart gun to take small game, said Lt. Paul E. McConnell of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. McConnell also noted the federal prohibition on taking Steller’s jays.
“However, a person could legally take a spruce grouse with a blow dart gun if he/she is in an area open to hunting and the season is open for spruce grouse,” he said.
Broshes and his wife, Deb Lowney, put out an alert about the darted jays on the Kachemak Bay Birders email list as well as on Facebook. He said he wanted to publicize the darting of the jays in hopes that someone might know of the person who shot the birds, or of someone who might use a blowgun, and educate them that darting birds is illegal and unethical.
“We’re upset enough with it that we felt the public should know it’s happening and shouldn’t be happening,” Broshes said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.