In the bursting rose of dawn…

Egan the Peregrine
Egan the Peregrine, guest of honour at Peregrine Watch 2012.

“I know a falcon swift and peerless
As e’er was cradled In the pine;
No bird had ever eye so fearless,
Or wing so strong as this of mine.”

 – from ‘The Falcon’ by James Russell Lowell

I am still reeling from Friday’s Peregrine Watch event, and fretting already about our beloved birds.  Last year’s event was sourly punctuated by a visit to the ground team by pigeon fanciers, who were openly threatening the birds: “they’re not natural” / “we’re going to GET those birds“.  Within two weeks of the event the female peregrine was found on the ground near tower street, and spent the night with the RSPCA with a diagnosis of ‘nerve damage’.  What many people don’t know is that the eggs she had laid before her ‘incident’ died while she was in care.

Peregrine Eggs
Two of the three eggs laid in 2011 by the Walsall peregrines.

One of them hatched and was found dead, half-out of the egg.  The photograph is too disturbing to post here.

Now of course I have no PROOF that the nerve damage was caused by any deliberate attempt to harm her, or even if it did that ‘pigeon fanciers’ are to blame.  But I do know for a fact that if it WERE the case, it would not be the first time.

In 2009 in Walsall a pigeon was found with a capsule strapped to its leg.  The capsule was filled with Aldicarb, a banned pesticide which directly affects the central nervous system.

Poisoning appears to be the modus operandi of pigeon fanciers wishing to target birds of prey. But while peregrine falcons are awarded the highest level of legal protection, there seem to be relativley few convictions (the maximum level of sentence is £5,000 fine and 6 months in prison), to the extent that in 2011 the RSPB  offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction following the poisoning of two peregrines in Cornwall.

A little voice in my head whispers to me that bringing attention to the peregrines in 2011 may have pushed the poisoners to act, and indeed I questioned whether Peregrine Watch 2012 should happen at all.  But promoting awareness and understanding of our birds is the ONLY weapon we have agains these creeps.  The more people that get to know about the birds and care about them, the more vigilant eyes and ears we have in the war against this and other wildlife crimes.

Peregrines undoubtedly do take racing pigeons.  But their diet is varied, including woodcock, mallard, swift, moorhen and starling (all of which have been seen to have been taken by the peregrines in Walsall).

I also have no doubt that the pigeon enthusiasts who are undertaking this cruel, cowardly passive-aggressive act of poisoning, do not represent the entire racing pigeon community.  I would love nothing more than to have some decent, outspoken pigeon racers ‘on side’ to help us to combat the misinformation and paranoia fuelling these crimes.

A Profound Glimpse
A Profound Glimpse

By and large, the population of Walsall have responded tremendously and positively to the presence of raptors in our town centre.

The Peregrine Watch events have given people a glimpse into the daily struggle for survival – the wilderness in miniature taking place over their heads as they walk to buy a sandwich at lunchtime.

That glimpse, that brief and private connection with a wild creature serves as a reminder that we don’t own the town, the countryside, or the wider landscape. We are only ONE of thousands of species which live here, but that only WE are blessed with the sentience that allows us to see our own place in the landscape.

I’ll finish my rant by arming you with the knowledge of what to do if you suspect or witness a wildlife crime, and the words of James Russell Lowell from ‘The Falcon’:

“Let fraud and wrong and baseness shiver,
For still between them and the sky
The falcon Truth hangs poised forever
And marks them with his vengeful eye.”

3 Replies to “In the bursting rose of dawn…”

  1. Im very sorry to inform you, but you will never get any, ” decent outspoken pigeon racers ” onside while ever you keep encouraging these birds into urban and city areas, these places are the “stronghold” of pigeon fanciers and have been for many years, Peregrines do not occur naturally in these places, by encouraging them to populate such places you bring them into direct conflict with pigeon fanciers…racing pigeons are costly to purchase and keep, some costing many hundreds of thousands of is probably the costliest hobby /pastime there is today…and you wonder why a minority of these people react seeing their birds mutilated and killed by these interlopers every day, scattered to the four winds in panic, a lifetimes work gone in a few seconds.

  2. im a pigeon flyer and have nothing agenst birds of pray they are lovely yo watch and have to live just like ever other bird and yes they do kill my beloved pigeons sometimes but thats just natural live and let live is what i say!!

  3. Hello Peter, for the sake of honest debate, I have allowed your comment to be published, which I’m sure you know that I didn’t have to do. Its probably fair to say that neither of us are about to change our opinions, and I entirely accept that. However, in the spirit of fairness, I’d like to reply not with my opinion, but with a couple of facts.

    Fact 1: The natural habitat of Peregrine Falcons is, as you implied, cliff faces.
    Fact 2: The natural habitat of pigeons is also cliff faces (they, like peregrines, were around way before towns and cities.)
    Fact 3: The appeal of high buildings, for both species, is that they are an analog for their natural habitat, with tall buildings and towers in urban areas providing a substitute cliff face upon which pigeons congregate (as is their natural behaviour) and from which peregrines hunt (as is THEIR natural behaviour)
    Fact 4: Peregrine falcons, feral pigeons, stock doves, etc have moved into cities and towns and thrived there, because of the ample food supply for pigeons, and therefore creating an ample food supply for peregrines (supplemented of course with other bird species such as hirundines, water fowl, wild waders, etc.). Nobody introduced these birds – they have made their way into our towns and cities and thrived there of their own accord. Without the encouragement of anyone.
    Fact 5: If, by your reasoning, peregrines are considered to be ‘un-natural’, surely by that logic you cannot possibly claim bred homing pigeons to be ‘natural’??

    and most importantly, Fact 6:

    In ALL predator-prey relationships in the wild, it is the numbers and availability of the prey species that determine the success and therefore the numbers of the predator species. This is the case with ‘sparrowhawks killing all the garden birds’ etc., Nature has its own system of checks and balances to ensure that no creature can completely decimate its primary food source and thereby bring about its own death or the extinction of its species. Any creature with the tendency to do such a thing would have fallen prey to natural selection millions of years ago.

    I genuinely appreciate that you took the time to reply to my post, and I also genuinely sympathise with the loss of your pigeons when this occurs, (and I have no doubt that it does, Peregrines are not selective). But I feel that, in light of the above facts, the call for control of wild birds of prey, or the attempt to harm or kill birds in order to protect human-bred pigeons simply cannot be justified. Moreover, it won’t work. The habitat is there, the food is available, and if you take out one predator, another will move in to thrive in its place, because nature always exploits and empty niche.

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