Ruffled Feathers

The Audubon Society wants some killer birds to stay off its land

Bolivar residents mostly hunt to eat, and they're accustomed to hunting pretty much wherever they please. Land owners rarely cared where their neighbors hunted. Much of the land purchased by the Audubon Society was prime hunting ground because it either had been in bankruptcy or was owned by the state.

"For years, people have pretty much done what they wanted down there," says Burkett, "and they're afraid of change."

Comeaux became a falconer after wounding a hawk.
Daniel Kramer
Comeaux became a falconer after wounding a hawk.

Comeaux can't travel long distances to hunt, in part because he provides 24-hour care for his invalid mother and he's on disability, with chronic foot pain from a motorcycle accident. And the nearby hunting land is rapidly disappearing.

In 2000, Comeaux was flying his falcon in a pasture then co-owned by the Audubon Society and a local rancher. When he returned to his truck he found a note from Burkett telling him he was trespassing.

He wasn't. Comeaux had the rancher's permission, so he ignored the note and others later left by Burkett -- one telling him to take his bird "somewhere else." Burkett tours the Audubon property at least once a week and has left lots of notes on lots of windshields.

Burkett says that the birders prefer guided tours and that liability insurance costs have made it necessary to restrict public access on some properties. "If they want to come on our land," she says, "they should call and ask permission."

Comeaux didn't call Burkett, but he did join the Houston Audubon Society. He tried an end run by asking Audubon's national office for a sort of member's exemption. They referred him to Burkett. "She's got total control," he says.

Last year, the birders divided the property they'd previously co-owned with Comeaux's rancher friend. When Burkett spotted Comeaux there, she confronted him and told him he was trespassing. This time he was, albeit unknowingly.

"He went into a tirade about how falconers are good people," Burkett says of their meeting.

Peregrine falcons and bald eagles were once endangered species. Falconers were instrumental in stabilizing some populations by breeding them in captivity and releasing them. So it seems cruelly ironic to Comeaux that a group of birders is preserving his lifelong hunting grounds, yet he and his birds aren't welcome there.

But Comeaux says the peninsula's rural lifestyle was probably doomed anyway. "It's the lesser of two evils," he says of the group. "If they didn't buy it, some rich asshole would buy it and put houses everywhere. I prefer it the way it is now over that."

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