A recent report called “Birdcrime” published by the RSPB has said that we’re not very good at looking after birds of prey in our country. A bird of prey is a bird that hunts for live animals such as mice and other birds, like an eagle or an owl. They are a fantastic product of evolution with their ability to spot prey moving in a field while hovering above and then to swoop in and catch fast moving animals. Fantastic!
Although it may not seem like it, birds of prey are very important ecologically. High level predators (animals at the top of the food chain – those that eat other animals but are not eaten themselves) are useful in keeping the natural order – i.e. if there are a lot of mice, they will be eaten by owls and eagles, and this will mean that there are less mice. This sounds like it’s bad for the mice, and of course it is bad for the ones that are eaten, but for those that are not eaten, there is less risk of a disease epidemic (diseases spread quicker through areas where lots of members of the same species live together) and less individuals eating the food meaning that they are less likely to starve to death. Not only are birds of prey very important for the environment, but in many cases these wonderful birds are endangered and need to be protected, not killed.
In the RSPB report, it is suggested the poisoning of birds of prey happens around areas where people like to go to shoot other birds, such as pheasants. Birds of prey, such as raptors, may eat baby pheasants so those who run shoots do not like them. Along with shooting and poisoning, some people steal eggs from nests (either to collect or to stop the eggs hatching) or capture birds of prey to sell. All of these things are illegal, and of course it’s only a small number of people who do this, but it messes with the local ecosystem and causes suffering to the birds and other animals, such as pet dogs and cats, who are caught in the traps or eat the poison, and therefore the more people who can be stopped, the better.
There is some good news though! Firstly, fewer birds of prey were killed last year than in previous years. Also, the RSPB are working hard to reduce the numbers even further. In the report linked to above, they call for stricter laws for those found placing traps, and they also investigate cases, so if you live in the countryside, keep your eyes open and report anything suspicious to them or your local police.
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Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.