Illegal bird deaths continue to rise in UK, RSPB report shows

An Eurasian buzzard (Buteo buteo), strung up on a farm fence in Scotland. Photograph: T/Alamy

An Eurasian buzzard (Buteo buteo), strung up on a farm fence in Scotland. Photograph: T/Alamy

Cases of the illegal persecution of British birds are continuing to rise, according to the latest figures from the RSPB.

The Birdcrime report, published on Friday, shows there were 208 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey in 2012, including confirmed shootings of 15 buzzards, five sparrowhawks and four peregrine falcons.

In the same year there were more than 70 reported poisoning incidents including nine buzzards and seven red kites, the report found. But the numbers of poisoning incidents has fallen in recent years, with 101 reports in 2011, 128 in 2010 and 153 in 2009.
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Extending hunting curfew will save more birds

Curfew prevents illegal hunters from using the cover of the open hunting season to target protected birds of prey.

Birds of prey are still the most targeted group of protected birds in Malta, sought after primarily for taxidermy.

Birds of prey are still the most targeted group of protected birds in Malta, sought after primarily for taxidermy.

BirdLife Malta said today that extending the two-week afternoon hunting curfew in autumn would be one of the best ways to save more birds of prey from illegal hunting.

The curfew prohibits hunting after 3 p.m. during the peak period for raptor (bird of prey) migration – between 15 and 30 September – and was introduced five years ago to prevent illegal hunters from using the cover of the open hunting season to target protected birds of prey as they search for roosting sites in the afternoon.

During a recent meeting of the Ornis Committee, which advises the government on bird conservation and hunting and trapping issues, BirdLife proposed an extension of the existing curfew by one week to cover the first week of October, citing evidence of increased illegal hunting of birds of prey in the afternoon during this period last year.

Explaining the need for an extension of the curfew, Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager, said: “Many birds of prey and other protected birds are still migrating in the first week of October, but they are not protected by the current curfew. Extending the curfew to cover this period would go a long way to better protecting these birds in practice, not just on paper.”

Last autumn, BirdLife Malta and CABS separately and independently recorded a threefold increase in the targeting of protected birds during the afternoon period following the lifting of the afternoon curfew on 1 October, when compared with the preceding two weeks, during which the curfew was in place.

The Ornis Committee voted down proposals by the FKNK (Federation of Hunters, Trappers and Conservationists) to remove the afternoon curfew altogether- a proposal BirdLife Malta said belied the hunting organisation’s public concern over the problem of illegal hunting, betraying their self-interested lack of concern for the considerations of wildlife protection and conservation.

The Committee did not reach consensus on other proposals put forward on the timing of the curfew, including a proposal to have the curfew pushed back to as late as 7 p.m.

“In practice, pushing the curfew back to 7 p.m. from 3 p.m. would be the same as removing it altogether, something the Ornis Committee already voted against,” said Barbara, pointing out that the vast majority of migrating raptors would already have roosted well before sunset and a curfew introduced at this time would do nothing to protect them.

Barbara expressed serious concerns about suggestions by a government representative at the Ornis meeting that increased enforcement could make up for the removal of the curfew: “Despite efforts at curtailing abuse, birds of prey are still the most targeted group of protected birds in Malta, sought after primarily for taxidermy. Increased enforcement would be best used as a measure on top of the afternoon curfew, not instead of it, giving police in the countryside a much better chance of identifying and apprehending those illegal hunters determined on shooting protected birds.”

Commenting on the proposals to Ornis, BirdLife’s executive director, Steve Micklewright, said: “Removing or pushing back the time of the afternoon curfew would be tantamount to saying ‘we are happy for more protected birds to be shot and killed by illegal hunters’. Well, we are not happy with that prospect.”

“The onus is now on the government to take a decision that reflects their zero-tolerance policy towards wildlife crime”, he said.


Crackdown on ‘barbaric’ killing of birds of prey

New measures aimed at curbing the “outdated, barbaric and criminal practices” against Scotland’s birds of prey have been unveiled.

HUNTED: Scotland's golden eagles have also been targeted.

HUNTED: Scotland’s golden eagles have also been targeted.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse strongly condemned those who seek to kill the animals and said some of Scotland’s magnificent wildlife was being put at risk.

Scottish Natural Heritage will now examine if general licences for trapping and shooting wild birds could be restricted on land where there is good reason to believe crimes have taken place.

An examination of whether legal penalties imposed on those who commit wildlife crimes are tough enough will now be carried out.

Meanwhile, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland has ordered prosecutors in the wildlife and environmental crime unit to work with Police Scotland to ensure all investigative means possible are being used.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “I am determined to stop illegal persecution of raptors that continues to blight the Scottish countryside.

“These outdated, barbaric and criminal practices put at risk some of our most magnificent wildlife and have horrified a wide range of people across Scotland and those who love Scotland.”

He added: “Wildlife crime, and raptor persecution in particular, often takes place in remote locations or in the dark of night. By its very surreptitious nature, the likelihood of being seen by a member of the public who can report the matter to the authorities is small. Through these new measures, I am keen to maximise the opportunity for offences to be detected and offenders to be tracked down.”

Mr Wheelhouse said that eradicating crimes against birds of prey remains a high priority for me and for this Government.

He stated: “It is not, however, the sole responsibility of government. Law enforcement clearly has a key role to play. Also, everyone should make clear their disapproval to the minority whose actions are tarnishing the reputation of Scotland’s country sports.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, praised the strong leadership on the issue.

He said: “It is firmly established that the prevailing levels of human killing are having a devastating effect on the populations of some of our native bird of prey species, including golden eagle, hen harrier and red kite.

“Recent incidents involving the killing of golden eagles and other birds of prey species have rightly caused public outrage.

“We welcome the clear leadership shown today by the Scottish Government indicating these crimes will not be tolerated in modern Scotland.

“We support further sanctions to act as a deterrent and to make it easier for the authorities to convict those involved. We hope these measures will be implemented soon and are well targeted to bear down on the organised crime behind much of this activity.”

However, the Scottish Land Estates organisation voiced fears the Government could be moving away from a criminal standard of proof in wildlife crime cases.

Chief executive Douglas McAdam stressed it unreservedly condemned wildlife crime, adding that people convicted of such offences should face the full weight of the law.

He said restricting licences on land where crimes are believed to have taken place, would “demand a very robust evidence base”.

Mr McAdam said: “If the Scottish Government intends to move away from a criminal standard of proof in wildlife crime cases, then this is a very serious move and deeply concerning for all land managers, especially as this may result in unfair restrictions on people’s livelihoods. The detail of any such proposals will be crucial.”

Mr Orr-Ewing claimed that, while many Scottish sporting estates had “a good reputation for giving a home to our native bird of prey species, the recent and historic problem of the killing of protected raptors is largely associated with land managed for commercial driven grouse shooting”.

He said: “This sector appears unwilling in many cases to embrace the change in public expectations, as well as adopting modern sustainable land management practices, with the protection of golden eagles and other birds of prey a key test of their positive intention.”

Police Scotland and RSPB Scotland have appealed for information after a protected red kite was found dead in woodland near Aboyne in Aberdeenshire in April. A post-mortem examinationconfirmed its death was not by natural causes. Poisoning incidents fell from 10, involving 16 birds, in 2011 to three in 2012, according to the latest figures.


Help needed to find the UK’s rarest bird of prey

he RSPB is calling on farmers and birdwatchers to help locate the UK’s rarest nesting bird of prey: the Montagu’s harrier.  The population of this beautiful bird of prey is down to fewer than a dozen pairs, most of which nest in crops.

The RSPB is appealing for sightings of the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey in an attempt to find and protect their nests, which are often hidden away in lowland crops and often only found at harvest time.

Montagu’s harriers return to the UK in late April after spending the winter in Africa. They breed almost entirely in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly choosing winter cereals, oilseed rape and grass silage. The core population often returns to the same nesting locations each year and RSPB has been working successfully with these farmers for over 30 years, protecting this species.

Farmers have been essential

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier work for the RSPB, said: “Along with species like stone-curlews and corncrakes, farmers have been essential in conserving our tiny population of Montagu’s harriers and through this hotline we hope to locate additional pairs that may otherwise have been missed.” He added: “The UK population is currently teetering on the brink, and finding additional pairs will be a bonus. All reports will be treated in the strictest of confidence.

Montagu`s Harrier © John Miller, from the surfbirds galleries.

Montagu`s Harrier © John Miller, from the surfbirds galleries.

“We’re hopeful that farmers and birdwatchers who spot Montagu’s harriers will contacts us so we can confirm the sightings. We can offer free advice on how these sites can be protected to ensure these magnificent birds can successfully rear young.”

Montagu’s harriers are striking birds. They are larger than a kestrel with long wings and a long tail giving them a slender appearance. The males are pale grey with black wing tips and the females largely brown with a white rump. They feed on mammals, small birds, reptiles and insects by quartering low over crops before dropping on their prey.

Anyone who thinks they may have seen a Montagu’s harrier is urged to contact the hotline on 01767 693398 or email Details should include the date and six digit grid reference, if possible, and a contact telephone number.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosting Birds of Prey program

A Harris’s Hawk at the 2012 Birds of Prey program at Oconaluftee. Image from the National Park.

A Harris’s Hawk at the 2012 Birds of Prey program at Oconaluftee. Image from the National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has teamed up with the Balsam Mountain Trust for a special program on Birds of Prey at the Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room on Thursday, June 6.

Michael Skinner, Executive Director of the Balsam Mountain Trust, will conduct an hour-long Birds of Prey program beginning at 1:00 p.m. This program will provide visitors with an up-close glimpse of some of the planet’s most recognized and revered wild animals such as the tiny eastern screech owl and northern bald eagle.

“We are delighted to welcome Balsam Mountain Trust to the park for this program,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger. “This is an opportunity for park visitors to see and learn about these beautiful birds first hand.”

Balsam Mountain Trust is a local non-profit whose mission is the stewardship of the natural and cultural resources on Balsam Mountain Preserve and the Blue Ridge Mountain region, through effective land management practices, scientific research, and environmental education. The Trust has earned special distinction as a place where non-releasable birds of prey are taken in, cared for, and then utilized as educational ambassadors.

The Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on U.S. Highway 441, 2 miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina. For more information on the upcoming Birds of Prey program, please call the park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center at (828) 497-1904. Information is also available from the park’s website at


Urban raptors adapt to Louisville city life

Red tailed hawks rescued in Jefferson County inside their flying cage at Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky on Thursday. March 28, 2013 / Alton Strupp/Courier-Journal

Red tailed hawks rescued in Jefferson County inside their flying cage at Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky on Thursday. March 28, 2013 / Alton Strupp/Courier-Journal

They soar above the city, killing their prey and raising their young in dramatic fashion above 1.3 million people in metro Louisville.

Hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and eagles are finding safe nesting places in populated places that offer trees, water and “food sources you might not be aware of,” said Mark Mlynek, a bird keeper at the Louisville Zoo.

“It’s becoming more and more common practice for raptors to learn to live with humans” said Mlynek, who has seen a nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks take up residence high in an oak tree at the zoo for the last two years.

Though wildlife officials don’t track the number of raptors in Louisville and southern Indiana communities, they say they are fairly abundant with some newcomers, including the city’s first two nesting pairs of bald eagles.

Officials say that for the most part, raptors and people get along locally. But there can be conflicts.

“Overall, raptors are great to have around in urban locations,” said Kate Heyden, a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They help control pest species (and) they also enrich our lives by being very interesting to watch.”

But, she added, “sometimes birds can be a little loud or defensive around their nests,” putting on a show meant to scare away potential predators.

Attorney Colin Lindsay said he’s observed the raptor influx, watching action from his office window on the 25th floor of the PNC Tower downtown — where he once watched a peregrine falcon, capable of reaching speeds of 200 mph, catch a chimney swift, a quick and acrobatic flier.

“It was an amazing feat,” Lindsay recalled. “The chimney swift flew south and away. The peregrine falcon flew up and out of my sight. About 20 seconds later, he came zooming down faster than you can imagine a bird can go, and knocked the chimney swift almost in half.”

Clifton resident Cassandra Culin has watched nesting and flying hawks for years and said they foster a connection to nature and spirit. She recalled taking a walk in 2007 near the nursing home in Clifton, where her 105-year-old grandmother had died that same day.

“I saw two hawks flying in the air, calling out out to each other,” Cullin said. “I thought, ‘Oh Granny, finally flying free.’”

Adapting to city life
Depending on their preferences, they eat insects, rats, mice and snakes.

Some dine on frogs and songbirds. They call out with distinctive vocalizations, such as the “woo, woo, woo” of a great horned owl or the high-pitched “shreeaaah” of a red-tailed hawk.

Cooper’s hawks are forest fliers that have developed a knack for navigating older neighborhoods with houses and trees close together, said Kathy Dennis, a volunteer at Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, which has cared for injured raptors for 25 years.

Cooper’s hawks are among those that eat other birds. “People who put up bird feeders … you are opening a McDonalds for hawks,” she said.

The American kestrel, a small falcon, naturally nests in tree cavities. But in the city, they can be found under the eaves of houses or in other building holes, said Eileen Wicker, executive director of Raptor Rehab.

A pair of peregrine falcons is raising a family 300 feet up a smokestack at the Mill Creek power plant in southwest Louisville, where LG&E has a webcam.

And as many as 10 golden eagles pass over Louisville each winter, settling into Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, just 25 miles from downtown.

“They migrate down from northeastern Canada in the fall, residing in Bernheim until mid-March usually,” said Andrew Berry, Bernheim forest manager. “They return to breed in Canada during spring.”

The red-shouldered hawks at the zoo occupy a squirrel nest.

“It’s actually a time-share,” Mylnek said. “Squirrels still use it in the winter.”

Life in the city
It’s “extremely rare” for raptors to harm people, said Heyden. Just give them some space, she said.

John and Lucy Quesenberry have had nesting hawks for several years, though not this year, on their property in eastern Louisville.

Lucy Quesenberry recalled how one year her husband would wear a safari helmet in the yard, or sometimes he would use an umbrella for protection, from a female red-shouldered hawk.

Raptor Rehab obtained a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take that bird’s chicks to its center, where they were raised by “foster parent” birds until they could be released, Wicker said.

“We loved having them, really, except for the one that was attacking us,” said Lucy Quesenberry. With the raptors gone this year, “we have a lot more rabbits eating the garden.”

Wicker said fewer raptors get shot in the city than in the country. But she recalled rescuing chicks from a Louisville nest in 2009, after a shooting.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation records obtained Tuesday from a March 13th Freedom of Information Act request indicate that two hawks in Louisville were shot and killed — an adult and a fledgling. The shooter told authorities that the hawks were harassing family members entering the front door.

Although the shooter faced a potential fine of $15,000 and six months in jail, the agency recommended the “minimal penalty” of $350, plus a $25 processing fee, because the hawks “did in fact pose a risk to the homeowners,” according to the records. A federal magistrate agreed, the records said.

William C. Woody, assistant director for law enforcement for the agency, refused to identify the name of the shooter, writing in a letter that the agency wanted to protect the person from “harassment or unwanted publicity.”

Dangerous work
More commonly, Louisville’s raptors are injured by cars or when they fly into a window. Babies sometimes get hurt when falling out of their nests, Wicker said.

Her group takes in 300 birds a year. About 40 percent can’t be saved, she said.

Of those that can, she said nearly 70 percent recover and are returned to nature. Others go to education programs or must be euthanized, she said.

The work can be dangerous. Holding a bald eagle is like “handling a package of dynamite,” she said.

And it takes money. Mice cost nearly a dollar each, and the center needs about 1,000 a week, she said.

The joy comes from freeing a once-injured bird, Wicker said. “It just does something to your spirit and soul.”